It was certainly a fantastic way to spend my 72nd birthday. We walked the Black Head Loop from the Fanore Bridge and back. I am so privileged to be in Ireland on my birthday. I’m also so blessed to have the ability to be doing these walks and not injuring myself on any of them.
Before I begin showing you rocks again, I will share a little amazing history about the land.
It is really hard to believe that 9,000 years ago (7,000 BC) Ireland was predominantly covered in a blanket of woodland. Early inhabitants (Mesolithic hunters, fishers and gatherers ) had little discernible impact on the forests. However, around 6,000 years ago the forests started to slowly disappear from parts of the country, particularly in the west and the south midlands. It is not fully understood why these early forests started to decline but scientists believe that two main factors may have been the cause – the growth of blanket bogs and the development of farming. The growth of the blanket bogs began approximately 6,000 years ago (4,000BC) and coincided with forest clearance by early Neolithic farmers, to accommodate tillage and pasture. As farming techniques developed through prehistory, and with the advent of iron tools in the later prehistoric period, the process of clearing Ireland‟s forests continued. However, the picture is not simply one of land-clearance – pollen profiles for the prehistoric period show cycles of land clearance coupled in many cases with recovery of forests and by the start of the first millennium AD much of Ireland was still covered with forest.
For reasons that are still unclear, it appears that some tree species declined drastically in the early centuries of the first millennium AD. Elm had been in decline since 3,000 BC, probably due to a disease that only affected Elm, and had virtually disappeared by the 7th century AD. By this stage too, the early law tracts indicate that the great woods were now confined to marginal land and upland areas. The general picture from these texts is of woods and copses, very often privately owned, whose resources were limited and needed careful protection by the law. Scots Pine also suffered a serious decline towards the end of the first millennium and may have been extinct by the 12th century. As the population increased over the following centuries, the demand for timber also increased and the exploitation intensified under the Anglo-Normans and, later, successive English monarchs. Nevertheless, there were extensive forests in Ireland before 1600. However, these forests were largely gone by 1800. There is no single reason for the ultimate decline of Ireland‟s forests but it is generally agreed that there were several contributory factors which began in the mid 16th Century. Here I will stop the history lesson and begin my wonderful day.
We begin our walk today at the Fanore Bridge where Anne took us in the car. Of course, it began on a rocky trail.
We were actually walking along something called the Green Road which is an old cattle drover’s road from Fanore to Ballyvaughan, Cattle, horses, sheep, and donkeys still Gray’s here all year round.
Have I told you yet that the word “Burren” comes from the Irish word “Boireann” which means rocky place. This is an appropriate name when you consider the lack of soil cover and the 130 km² a spectacular tourist Carboniferous limestone hills and valleys that characterize the area. I love all these rocks.
You are probably going to see more photos of stones today than you ever wanted to see. The trail continued with stones and rock walls all around us. Patrick told us today when he was driving us to her drop off point that they have uncovered a wall that was 5000 years old. That is mind boggling.
There had been green fields below us.
They were apparently replaced by limestone pavements dotted with erratics – large boulders left behind by the glaciers after the last ice age.
The last ice age was ages ago, so these rocks were here before the trees.
Were these rocks put in a row for a reason -perhaps another Pagan spot.
Looking back to Fanore and Galway Bay was beautiful.
Walking by rock walls was amazing.
Patrick, Anne’s husband told us that if we climbed up high over the rocks we would find a fort. So up we climbed. There were so many places where you could look through the rock walls.
Loved the flowers in the rocks.
And in the ferns… I think this one is called a Cranesbill, but what do I know about flowers.
We kept climbing up along the rock wall.
Finally we arrived at the fort. We think it is called Cahedoonfergus. We don’t have any idea how old it was.
It is really hard for me to get the right perspective when I’m photographing the fort.
We stayed up at the fort for a short while and then started our walk back down. It is a bit easier to show you the perspective of our walk as we went down. Here is Mary going over one of the spots we had to climb.
This was a pretty deep step.
When we got back down to the bottom, we stopped and had a bite for lunch from our packs. I usually eat my almonds, dried fruit, and M&Ms.
As we walked on I turned around and looked back into the valley where we began.
Then I kept walking on the path with what looked like sheets of limestone below me.
All the views were just amazing.
We could still see the Conamara over the Galway Bay.
We came to a path That I think was the narrowest Path I have ever walked. I loved it.
For centuries in Ireland Catholic mass was declared illegal by the ruling English. It was punishable by death for priests who broke the law. Mass was often held in secret in remote areas.
We could see the 16th century Gleninagh Castle (inhabited till 1890) in the field below.
I love the green fields around it.
Our directions said that we might be able to spot the hidden rooms of the Gleninagh a Church, but I never saw it.
Eventually we came to the old ‘Mass Path’ leading up from the valley below. We climbed 750 m. until we came to a wall crossing the lower land between the Gleninagh Mountain and the Cappanawalla. I tried a panoramic to show both.
We continued climbing gently up the side of the Capanawalla for about 250m. Until we came to a path that had a rocky cliff on one side and green hills just over the wall on the other side.
How can anybody resist the green fields.
Today many of the stiles we crossed were stone.
We passed an area with an enclosed natural spring. These places are important for the animals which are grazing here because there are few natural lakes and streams in the Burren because of the porous limestone.
We passed by some sheep that have been sheared.
A few kilometers later we passed another ancient ringfort called Cathair an Ard Rios which may translate as ‘the fort of the high door’. Ringfort are also called caters. They can be made of stone or earth. I learned that they were constructed from the Iron Age up until the early Middle Ages (800 B.C. – 1000 A.D). Some were still in use through the 18th century. It is been estimated that there may have been this many and 50,000 of these ringforts throughout Ireland.
Inside Cathair an Ard Rios were the remains of two buildings side-by-side. Local lore says that these used to be a chapel and a shebeen (an illegal drinking place). You might say that all your spiritual needs for looking after at this location.
Close to the end of today’s hike we hiked through a small Canyon. It is known as Kyber Pass.
The Kyber Pass has probably been named so my local man who had seen service in India with the British Army.
We also walked by the Caher River which is unique in the Burren because it flows entirely above ground.
We didn’t get back into Fanore until after 7:30. I am still the tortoise who can turn what is stated as a six hour hike into almost 10. So, even though I am walking long distances like 20 km, I know I’m still not ready to walk with the Friday group. I’m still too slow.
Mary took me out for a wonderful birthday dinner at Vasco Café. They were about to close but they actually stayed open for us.
Tonight’s sunset was even more spectacular than yesterday.
I certainly had a fabulous 72nd birthday.