Every time I plan a city break or a holiday in Ireland, I usually look for a place where I can see and feel the real essence of the Irish wilderness.
Even if the weather in this country is very unpredictable and you never know whether you will be stuck in rain or enjoy a sunny day, this country bears many hidden natural gems that only locals can really help you discover.
This year one of my friends from Waterford (a city in the South of Ireland), knowing that I am pretty fond of hiking, told me about a beautiful hike in the Comeragh mountains, which hides one of the biggest glacier lakes in Ireland – Coumshingaun Lake.
Excited by the idea of exploring a part of Ireland I hadn’t seen yet, my greatest hiking companion – my boyfriend – and I planned our hiking weekend and decided to stay in Tramore, a very cute seaside town on the Southern coast of Ireland. After leaving our stuff at our B&B, we went down to the seaside to take a walk along the famous Tramore promenade and strand.
The long sandy beach and wild sea are very famous among surfers and kite-surfers and I was expecting to see some of them mastering their skills among the high waves.
When we arrived at the seaside though, the wind coming from the sea was strong enough to form huge waves that crashed down on the promenade spraying water and sea-foam everywhere. No surfers or kitesurfers were brave enough to venture out in such a stormy sea!
The sight was amazing and scary at the same time and we noticed that a lot of locals were enjoying the mighty show inside their cars parked along the promenade.
The waves were high enough to leap over the railings of the promenade and cover all the cars parked nearby!
When we woke up the next day, the weather was not very promising. Rain was pouring down and we almost gave up on our hike. Thankfully, we decide to stick to the plan and we had the most enjoyable and lovely day!
Before heading toward the Comeragh mountains and Coumshingaun Lake, we took a detour to visit the Mahon Falls. We drove on narrow and winding roads that offered beautiful views of the Irish countryside. Squared, bright green fields, surrounded by low stone walls, made the hills look like a big chess board.
By the time we arrived at the falls, it stopped raining but the clouds were still very low on the mountain tops and it seemed that they were about to fall on us.
Despite the gloomy atmosphere, we could hear the happy chirp of birds and the melodic bleat of sheep grazing on the steep mountain slopes.
The closer we got to the Mahon Falls the louder was the sound of its water crashing on bare rocks.
We hiked towards the top of the main waterfall, stopping on a big rock facing the falls to admire its powerful stream and the beautiful panorama around us.
Before leaving the B&B our host told us of a `Magic Road` situated on a particular spot along the road to the Mahon Falls. She explained that we needed to leave our car without the brakes on and watched it move uphill. She had done that many times and she was still so excited about this optical illusion that we wanted to try it too.
On our way back, we found the spot marked with a carved stone saying `Magic Road` and we stopped the car there. I got out and checked that the road was going uphill. It clearly did and also the car started slowly moving uphill until it took on speed… that was indeed pretty ‘magical’!
We got completely hung up on this crazy optical illusion and after taking many pictures and videos, we realised that it was really time to start our hike. The Coumshingaun Lake Loop begins at a car park and for the first 100 metres it follows a well-marked path that suddenly disappears inside a forest.
When we got to that point, there were no signs any more and we were not sure which way to follow but as the forest continued uphill we figured that we needed to cross it to reach the mountain side. We walked among tall pine trees and the ground was covered by soft green moss.
Once outside the forest we noticed that the mountain enclosing the Coumshingaun Lake was on our right and in order to move forward, we needed to climb over a stone wall surrounded by barbed wire. Evidently, we were not the first ones to do so and, after walking a few metres, we found a spot where the wire was bent and we could easily climb over.
The closer we got to the lake, the steeper the path became until we reached a small flat plateau. Here a group of rocks obstructed the view but after walking a little bit further, it opened up and we saw Coumshingaun Lake’s dark waters enclosed in a semicircle of high cliffs. The panorama was truly breathtaking and we stopped to enjoy it for a few minutes before climbing the cliff on the north side of the lake.
Once we arrived at the top, the path followed the ridge that encircled the lake. As I expected the ground was dotted with ponds and tall grass hiding the water below. After hiking Lugnaquilla mountain two years ago, I learnt the lesson and I wore proper waterproof hiking shoes for this trek.
This is the part of the hike I enjoyed the most. From up here, the views of the lake, the valley and the hills around us were truly stunning!
During the whole hike our only companions were the few sheep who were grazing on the short grass growing along the cliff’s sides. I was surprised to see how easily they were climbing up and down such steep slopes. We managed to take a selfie with a small group of them before they started to run down the cliff away from us!
The descent was quite challenging as at times we needed to climb down a few big rocks or go around them following a narrow path facing the precipice, giving me little thrills when looking down at the lake.
We finished the Coumshingaun Lake Loop in approximately 3 hours and we enjoyed every single minute of it.
Compared to Lugnaquilla and Croagh Patrick hikes, this was less challenging and tiring but here I could really see and feel the essence of the Irish wilderness.
If you are curious and adventurous you should definitely go to the Comeragh mountains and do the Coumshingaun Lake Loop. Let yourself be immersed in the fragrances and sounds of Irish nature!
Comaragh mountains and Coumshingaun Lake are only a few hours drive from Dublin and I hope I have given you another good idea for a long weekend or holiday in Ireland
Emanuela (Administrator, Central School of English)
Simon is the Director of Studies at the Central School of English in Dublin