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What kind of animal is that?
Up another hill we found our way to the most enchanting of all the walks I did in Ireland this year – the Waterfall Farm and its Alpaca Walk. We couldn’t start the walk without first meeting Emma & Markus Bird, owners of this little bit of heaven. They are still developing this as an attraction for individual walkers as well as school groups.
Starting out at some of Ireland’s remaining standing stones, the one mile trail leads you past the pens of the male and female alpacas, past the donkeys, along some joyous looking Yellow Gorse shrubs, and down to the river. It’s here the real fun starts.
Walking along the stream, there are dozens of mini-rapids where the water spills quickly over rocks and makes the most remarkable and relaxing sounds.
Wending your way through flower patches, under blossom-filled trees and over stone-step bridges, you’ll find your way to a mighty waterfall that feeds this entire area. If you want to linger awhile, you’ll find Ally’s gazebo tucked away nearby.
Can stones really stand?
Some distance away, we visited the Maughanasilly Stone Row which has been taking visitors since 1600BC. If you come here every 18-1/2 years (the length of the full lunar cycle) you’ll discover that the stones are perfectly aligned with the most northerly point of the moon’s rising. Ever wonder how the Bronze Age people got so smart without the Internet?
Irish males and Irish tales
Another short drive and we met Dan Sullivan and his restored Carriganass Castle tower house (built in 1541.) This was originally a five-story castle and eventually enclosed by a stone fort along the Ouvane River.
It was here I learned the legend of Donal Cam, who disguised as a monk, found his wife’s murderer here in the tower and tossed him to the river below. Factually there’s no evidence this ever happened, but it’s the best story going in these parts – so who’s going to ruin a good Irish tale.
Inspiring pilgrims since the 6th century
Finishing up the day we motored to the end of the St. Finbarr’s Walk to see the glacially formed valley known as Gougane Barra. Here, set on the edge of an idyllic lake is the shrine commemorating St. Finbarr who built a hermitage here in the sixth century, before moving on to create a monastery and the city of Cork.
Warm hospitality in a glacial groove
As the day was drawing to a close, David and I were invited to the lovely Gougane Barra Hotel by proprietor Neil & Katy Lucey for dinner. They’ve been keeping a 400+ year-old family tradition alive since 2005. The hotel is open April through October each year. The hotel is recipient of dozens of awards and is a beautiful place to stay.
Food for the evening consisted of a salad of local West Cork cheeses with pear, bacon, croutons and honey dressing. The entrée was delicious, fresh deep-fried Dingle Bay Scampi with homemade chips and tartar sauce. That should have been enough, but they twisted our arms and insisted we try the ‘Gougane Mess’ – a heavenly combination of vanilla ice-cream with homemade mini meringue, red berry coulis and cream. Heaven in a glass.
Spending the evening with such good food, a view of St. Finbarr’s Oratory across the lake and in the good company of David Ross was truly a highlight of my Ireland trip. As we talked travel, faith and family, I was truly in awe of his accomplishments as a husband, father, minister, rancher and now proprietor of West Cork’s newest tourist destination – the Pod Pairc. This man’s energy knows no bounds.
I also made a discovery about myself. As a travel writer, I always tried to cram as many stops in one days as possible to be able to tell my readers more about what they could find at any destination. I measured success by how many photographs I could shoot in 24 hours.
While that is still necessary at times, what I discovered is that the true Ireland can best be appreciated by walking its paths and getting to know its people. If you want to meet two of the best, head to Top of the Rock and meet David and Elizabeth Ross. If a walking vacation is in your future, you can’t do better than this.
Top of the Rock details:
7 Pods available:
- 2 Luxury pods have toilets, double beds and hand wash basins with mini-kitchen and dining table. A pull out sofa can handle an extra two people. €69-79/night (2014 rates)(pictured below)
- 2 Family pods with three fold-up beds and handle five adults or six family members. Kitchen, shower and laundry facilities are in the main Pairc Centre building. €49-59/night
- 3 Standard pods come with two fold up beds for two adults and two small children (or three adults). Like the family pods, all services are close by. €39-49/night
Meals can be enjoyed in the Pairc Centre building, or Elizabeth can arrange a breakfast bag to be delivered right to your pod in the morning. It features those great Glenilen Farm products, jams and Elizabeth’s homemade scones (as good as I’ve ever had.)
We got back to the Pod Pairc just as the sun had disappeared over the mountains. The twilight glow let me get a couple more photos before making a cup of tea and then turning in for a comfortable night’s sleep in my pod. This day certainly reminded me why I love traveling – especially to Ireland.
Also published on Medium.