A spot of recce in Gougane Barra3rd May 2007
Last weekend saw pop over to Éire to see the folks for the first time since the Christmas break. It also saw me revisiting Gougane (pronounced guugawn) Barra, where the River Lee rises, on the Sunday. This place is one of my father’s favourite places and even with cloudy skies and a cloud base approaching the 500 metre level, you could still see why. Seeing it on a sunny day and being able to explore it in a bit more depth would have been ideal but my 90 minutes off the leash (my parents are not really into walking but they have bequeath me a love of the countryside) allowed for a good few record shorts capturing ideas for any return. Still, the weather remained dry for our stay, a bonus since we had passed through mist, murk and light rain while we made our way there.
Gougane is place with two sides to it: Valley Desmond and an eponymous lake with an island hosting the ruins of an old monastery and a small church. The lake sits outside Valley Desmond and collects the waters of the juvenile Lee before it continues its onward journey towards Cork city where it meets the sea in Cork harbour. The monastic ruins once hosted a religious community found by Cork city’s patron saint, Finbarr. Given how old it is, it is amazing how much remains in good condition and it is hard to fault its setting but it is well frequented.
Nowadays, Valley Desmond is owned by Coillte, the Irish forestry agency (it’s the Irish word for forests or woods and is pronounced queellte), and ubiquitous conifers line the hills from whose craggy slopes the waters of the juvenile Lee gather. There was a time before the invasion of commercial forestry but there was no access for the public back then like there is today. Coillte, like any state-owned custodian of commercial forest, does do its bit to encourage visitors and they charge for entry too, though you could be lucky in the off season. For the money, you get parking and a reasonable network of paths; in fact, this network is being treated to a spot of maintenance right now with bridge replacements and surface improvements taking place. It was on these paths that I went for a stroll and some of them do get you above the tree line for views of the lake, among other things. The hills around here may not be that high – the Irish have a penchant for calling anything above 400 metres high a mountain but that’s a discussion for another day – but the thoughts of delving deeper do appeal to me.