Black Valley to Lough Acoose
I wake early in Shamrock B&B and watch the misty sunlight stroking the hills and loughs. Today I have more time than yesterday, when everything had to be squeezed into the afternoon, so I make a leisurely start after host Sheila shows me her expectant donkey and new chicks. Unfortunately, mother hen doesn’t want to bring her brood from under a bush for a photo.
The day is bright but cold in the chilling wind. My route takes me through the beautiful Black Valley with Cummeenduff Lough in the glen below and Brassel Mountain towering above to my right, dark and cold.
After the road ends, the way passes through damp forestry and out into sheep pasture peppered with rocks. The path rises. A cascade flows into the lough across the valley.
Rounding the hump of Brassel Mountain, the track leads into a deep valley at the head of Cummeenduff river, a tall standing stone in front of a yellow farmhouse. The Reeks tower above to my right, Broaghnabinnia to my left. The glen appears to be a cul-de-sac with no way out except up and I search in the distance for the path to see how ‘up’ it might be but can’t spot it.
As the trail dog-legs around the mucky farmyard I bash my knee on an unfriendly metal gate, right on a bruise I got from hitting a rock yesterday. I complete the magic trio on a ladder stile later in the day; hopefully that will break the piseóg1
As the path zigzags up the contours I see where it is leading me: the saddle between the hills, marked by a group of standing stones, artfully placed just under the ridge to appear on the horizon when seen from below. They are probably companions to the stone in the valley. It’s steep but the path makes use of the contours so it’s not too bad.
Once over the ridge, the Bridia Valley stretches out before me but it’s a long, long way below and for the next 40 minutes or so I pick my way down over the steep jumble of rocks. It’s one of those descents where each footfall might slip away from under me. The bruised knee complains after each jarring step down but I tell it to shut up.
Finally down, I cross soggy sheep pasture (the pasture, not the sheep) onto the road.
The Bridia is home to an unexpected delight: ‘Stepping Stones’ is a café in a renovated farmhouse. I get one of the best chicken sandwiches ever and chat to John who runs the place. It’s not long before we unravel the degrees of separation: he knows where we live, I know where he used to live and I have even been to his Grandfather’s pub which has been removed lock, stock and beer-barrel to a museum as a living exhibit.
Sitting outside the café, I meet a couple, one French and one American who live in Geneva and meet them several more times along the way and end up walking with them until our paths diverge. We also discover much in common.
After the Bridia the path ascends steeply on the “Lack Road”. Not a road as we know it but an old butter route over the high pass out of the valley. I miss a waymarker and have to scramble up rough ground to rejoin the track. The path is awash and I find myself thinking of all the words we use to describe flowing water: torrent, cascade, river, rivulet, brook, stream, trickle, drip. It’s steep, hard going, best suited to donkeys but the views are spectacular. Of course down has to follow up and I descend into the wide valley below the twin peaks of Caher mountain.
Lough Acoose sits beneath Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, which I climbed with son Will last December starting just down the road from here. It looks even steeper now than it felt then.
Lough Acoose B&B has a self-service kitchen with fresh cakes and drinks. Mary is out at her son’s football match2 but a note says to let myself in so I make myself comfortable and put my feet up. Mary is soon back and she gets me a delicious meal.
About the route
Some strenuous ascents and descents but stupendous views. Very rough underfoot once off the roads through the two valleys.
16km in about 6.5 hours. Total ascent/descent: 779m. Max elevation: 383m.