Hike Number 4
Circuit of Glenasmole
The valley of Glenasmole, situated in the southwest extremity of county Dublin is as steeped in history, mythology and pre-history as it is rich in scenery. Indeed, the name and the very fact that it is sometimes interchanged with Bohernabreena, to which its two reservoir lakes refer, adds to its mystique. I initially assumed, and probably incorrectly, that the name meant the valley of the thrush, derived from the Irish Gleann (glen or valley) na Smoil; smolach being the Irish word for thrush. But further reading led me to duchas.ie where I discovered a more likely derivation in valley of the black patch, and therein lies the connection with the other name associated with these parts.
Bohernabreena derives from the Irish Bothar na Bruidhne, the road of the hostel. In ancient tradition, a bruidhean was a house for travellers to rest on their journey. Local legend has it that the house once belonged to Da Dearga, and Conaire, high king of Ireland, while staying over on his way home from Munster to Tara, came under attack from men he had previously banished, and the hostel was burnt down as a result. All that remained was a scorched scar on the ground, the black patch!
View from the top of Glenasmole valley looking northwest to the reservoirs through a lone hawthorn tree
Access to this looped hike is greatly facilitated by an enterprising local resident who has re-purposed some land into a sizeable car-park, details of which are given in the access section towards the end of this blog. Thus our hike begins at the southeastern and upper reaches of the valley.
Following a quiet, narrow road and taking a right fork after about 300m, follow an even narrower road for a further 700m to where it makes an abrupt and sharp left turn, almost doubling back to form an acute v-shape. Along this road an old stone bridge crosses a brook near its confluence with a second; Moreen’s Brook to the left and Cot Brook, flowing parallel on the right. They are two of three feeders which form the river Dodder, before passing the upper reservoir.
At the point of the V there is a gate. Pass through it making sure to close it after. The gently rising gravel path ahead is flanked on the left by an unusual combination of native scots pine and non-native rhododendron, the latter a legacy of three sisters who resided on these grounds in the lodge that is just out of view behind the trees, some 200 years ago. These are the grounds of Glenasmole lodge, formerly Cobbe’slodge, and Heathfield lodge before that again. To tell its fascinating history would warrant an entire blog in itself and to summarise it here would not do justice to it. If you care to join me for this hike, I will happily tell it, or readers can otherwise refer to local historian and archaeologist Patrick Healy’s Glenasmole Roads.
Rhododendrons flanking the mountain path that leads to Kippure
Native scots pine over the rhododendrons
Continuing gently upwards, the full splendour of the valley below over the right shoulder reveals itself. A lone hawthorn tree to the right is as good a spot as any to rest up, swivel, and take in the view. After a further 1km or so, notice a granite stone on the right with an inscribed plaque, a memorial to a remarkable if disturbing tale of three men, a father and his two sons, executed over 200 years ago having been convicted of the murder of a man who disappeared.
As the path winds its way gently upwards to the southeast, the surrounding vegetation is now reduced to mostly heather and fern. Good weather affords excellent views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. The imposing spectre of Kippure mast looms ever larger up ahead, a beacon for the task ahead.
Looking west along the mountain path towards Seechon
Tightening the shoe-laces on the path to Kippure
After about 3km the path makes a right angle turn to the right. I should say at this point that parts of this route are quite literally off the beaten track, with sections of uneven and soft ground. Therefore it is best tackled in good weather, after a dry period ideally.
At this point there is a shallow gully which continues straight uphill. It is possible that this will lead to a traversable route to intersect the mountain path that extends along the northeast shoulder of Kippure, but to this I cannot testify, as I have not yet tried it.
Instead, turn right and follow the main path, now slightly downhill. After another left then right turn, there is another gully on the left. Resist the temptation to follow the path down and turn left up the gully instead. On its left side there is a sheep trail to follow. In fine weather, Kippure mast will always be in view as a directional aid, but in poor visibility navigation equipment and skills are essential here! The gully eventually peters out but it is still just about possible to pick out the sheep trail. While it may be possible to follow a bee-line directly towards the mast, it is best to keep left, in order to intersect the path that connects Kippure with the Military Road, a less strenuous option, and kinder environmentally. Cross one of several stream tributaries that feed into Moreen’s Brook which now comes into view, and after a short distance you will reach the path, which forms the Dublin Wicklow county boundary.
There is now a pleasant and easy climb all the way to the summit of Kippure. Here you can savour the views of the Wicklow Mountains, including its three highest peaks; Lugnaquilla (925m), Mullaghcleevaun (849m) and Tonelagee (817m), visibility permitting.
RTE Mast at the summit of Kippure, the highest mountain in county Dublin at 757m
Looking over the long shoulder of Kippure towards Corrig Mountain on the right and Seechon to the left
Leaving Kippure, follow a faint track in a west-northwesterly direction. The track eventually disappears down into an area of peat hags. Again, clear skies and dry weather are your friends for this section. If conditions are wet or visibility is poor, this section is tiresome at best and treacherous at worst! Once past the col you will pick up a path that eventually leads up towards the next peak, Seefingan, again following the county boundary
Seefingan cairn and trig pillar
Unusually, what appears to be the summit of Seefingan, seems to be marked by a solitary timber post which also marks where the path veers north towards the next peak, Corrig mountain. However, it is more than worthwhile to continue west for another 200m or so, to visit the massive megalithic cairn and distinctive trig pillar. Indeed, you may wish to trek a further 1km or so to the cairn of Seefin, more celebrated perhaps only because of its visible passages, unlike Seefingan, which has never been excavated.
Legend has it that these cairns were where Fionn McCumhail and his army sat and feasted after a day of hunting in Glensamole. It is said that Seefin may mean the seat of Fionn, and Seefingan the seat of his son.
Either cairn would be a good spot to stop for a bite to eat, sitting at whatever aspect necessary to shelter from the wind. Perhaps it was for this same reason that our legendary forebears chose these locations for there post hunt feasts!
View of Glenasmole from Glassvullaun on its western side overlooking Glassamucky and Piperstown on its east side
Leaving Seefingan and its cairn, a faint path leads back east to pick up the aforementioned path, leading down and then up to Corrig. For whatever reason, this peak is conspicuous by the absence of megaliths at its summit. From here, veer west-northwest towards its nearby neighbouring peak of Seechon, and another cairn. The longer version of its name means seat of the widow’s son. Turn to follow the left hand fork, the right hand being the one you came up, and follow northwest down to a cross-paths. Turn right here and continue down for about 200m to intersect another path. Turn left and continue as you come down into the valley with the reservoir lakes soon coming into view. The path eventually leads to a farm gate. Opening and closing the gate behind you, continue down as the path winds left to right and through the farmyard. Having made enquiries locally, I understand that there is a public right of way but it as always it is important to be respectful of your environment.
Peaty mountain water is channelled into the lower reservoir
The valve house from which the cleaner water of the upper reservoir is piped
Leaving the farmyard, a narrow road leads to a T-junction. Take a left here to another T-junction. Follow the road down taking a right fork after a short distance. Look out for a path on your right and follow it down until you meet a road which runs parallel to the reservoirs. Turn right here and follow the road up to the upper reservoir.
The Bohernabreena reservoirs were constructed between 1883 and 1887 after the authorities of Rathmines Township rejected Dublin Corporation’s Vartry reservoir scheme, saying the water was too expensive: so they built their own. The relatively clean water of the upper lake comes from the stoney slopes of Glassvullaun to the west and Glassamucky and Piperstown to the east. You can still see the valve house from which drinking water was piped to the Rathmines residents. The peaty mountain water of the river Dodder and its tributaries from above the valley is channeled through a culvert that was constructed on the west side of the upper reservoir, thus by-passing it, and fed into the lower reservoir, once providing water to some 45 mills at various points along the Dodder on its journey through south county Dublin.
I never fail to linger here and marvel where impressive 19th century engineering meets dramatic timeless scenery.
Kilnasantan burial ground possibly dating from the 10th century AD
I generally like to finish a long hike or walk with a relaxing last stretch, a gentle incline or flat. This finish certainly ticks that box.
Having followed the road and a short uphill path to reach the upper reservoir, follow the path that runs along the top of the dam to cross to the other side. You will pass the valve house on your right and the huge culvert and downslope of the dam on your left. The views here are never anything but stunning.
The final stretch is a beautiful walk along the tree-lined path that flanks the east bank of the reservoir. Rambling, and catching glimpses of the sun and water occasionally peeping through the trees, it’s the perfect warm down from the excesses of the steep slopes and tough terrain encountered earlier.
About half way along, an inconspicuous gate into a sloping field gives access to the medieval church and burial ground that gave its name to the better known church and GAA club several kilometers to the north, by accident! Sadly, nothing but a small section of wall remains of the original church, Kilnsantan, the church of Santan or Sanctan. It is believed that around the middle of the 19th century, the name was mis-construed as St. Anne, hence the name of the aforementioned club and church. The burial ground, also visible from the earlier descent from Seechon, remains almost unnoticed in this quiet alcove. The short diversion to visit and sit is well worth it.
The path rejoins the Castlekelly Road at the upper end of the reservoir. Turn left to arrive at the car park after a short distance on the right hand side.
Map, Profile & Good to Know
This is a relatively long hike just over 20km, adding 2km if visiting Seefin passage tomb.
It should only be attempted by experienced hikers with good navigational skills.
Best attempted in dry conditions with good visibility, keeping the group size small.
Allow about 7 hours including food and other stops, but this can vary depending on fitness levels.
Until recently access to this hike was extremely limited. With no public transport, possibly due to the inability of large vehicles to negotiate the tight bend at Forth bridge, car parking is limited to a small area at the north entrance to the reservoirs. With only about 20 spaces, you would need to arrive very early, especially at weekends, to secure a spot. Then, you will a have a pleasant but lengthy road walk to the far end of the upper reservoir, adding several kilometres to the hike.
As indicated at the start of this blog, an enterprising local has come to the rescue. I have spoken with Ronan recently, who has consented to mention of his enterprise here. On the Castlekelly road, just up the hill from the southern end of the upper reservoir, on the right hand side, the entrance to a private car park is indicated by a simple notice with the reassurance of CCTV, a number to call, and some hot drinks!
Best to call in advance to reserve your spot, especially at weekends and with larger groups. The fee is a reasonable €5 per car per day, and if the premises happens to be unattended, there is an honesty box to deposit your gratuity.
From the R114 (Ballinascorney Road) there are two possible driving routes. Travelling out, away from the city and Old Bawn, you can either turn left up Bohernabreena Road, past St. Anne’s GAA club and church, through the village an Cunard (6.5km / 10 min), or stay on the main road and turn left past the entrance to the reservoirs to follow the road on their west side (6.8km / 11 min).
See the pin Bohernabreena Upper Lake Car Park on Google Maps.
Ronan tells me that that the hot drinks are soon to be augmented with farm food snacks.
Great plans and a greater need: despite its relative proximity to Dublin city, this area is quite remote, so a cuppa’ and a snack at the end, or even the start of this hike, is most welcome!
If you still have time for a wee diversion, taking the road that flanks the west side of the reservoirs, why not stop off at Olly’s Farm and try out some local home made honey.
By appointment, call +353 87 7747169
The closest spot is at Old Bawn, some 7km north towards the city form the car park.
Perhaps the pick of the options here – when re-opened – is the Old Mill Pub. Here, as you sip from your glass, you might reflect on the fate of the owner and operator of the public house that stood on this exact spot some 200 years ago, one William Billy Kearney, as memorialised on the plaque you saw earlier, on the mountain path to Kippure!
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