06 June 2014

Lough Mask

Ever since I discovered that there were lakes near Ballinrobe, I was on a search to discover how we might get there on foot, especially when we studied the large map that stands on the side of the road as you come into town from the south. It indicated a couple of different ways that one might get to different parts of Lough Mask on foot. One route was along the Robe River--the map showed a little walker icon near town and then a hiker closer to the lake, with a boat in between. The other way appears to be along a county road and has walker and hiker icons all the way along.

When we first discovered the Bower's Walk, I had hopes that it would lead all the way to the lake, but it didn't. Every road we tried seemed dangerous once the sidewalk ran out--narrow, no shoulders, stone walls right up against the road, and lots of traffic. Searching online yielded no results. Then, last week, we went for a walk down a road just to see what we would see, and a guy came out to talk to us. He told us that if we went to the end of that road and followed a trail through a forest, we'd come out at the lake.

Yesterday was a perfect day for exploration, so we packed our water bottles and lunches and set off over the river and through the woods to see if we could get to Lough Mask. There were a couple of different ways we could have gotten back to that road, but we chose to take the Bower's Walk again.  We were surprised not to see other people out walking there because it was a lovely day.  We came to the end and went back to the road we'd been on before.

Bower's Walk

the road that starts us on our way after leaving Bower's Walk

We reached the point where we expected to find a clear path into the woods, but we found a farm and the road curving sharply to the right, which didn't seem like the right way to go. We thought the road ended, but it doesn't--we will have to go around that rightward curve some day and see where that leads, but yesterday we were just puzzled. The guy we talked to last week had mentioned a couple of gates and there they were, but the open one was clearly part of a farm, and the other one, which was closed, had a "Beware of the Bull" sign on it. Fortunately, there was a guy there working, so we asked him if there was a trail to the lake around. He chuckled and said, "You'll have to open a few gates.  You go through a farm." Bill asked if he thought it'd be OK for us to do that and he replied, "Yeah, I'll let you. I don't mind. Just close the gates behind you."  Then he went on with his instructions, "You'll see a couple of places going right. Don't ever go right. Just go straight ahead on the path. It's a good 2 miles, but it's a nice walk." We thanked him and proceeded through gate number one. We went through 3 gates and found ourselves on a trail with stone walls on either side. There were cows to the left and a gloriously large collection of sheep spread out in a few different fields to the right. After a few minutes, we had empty fields on either side. Then we came to another gate. We had to push a bit to get it open, because ivy had grown up and the gate was wedged in pretty well, but we got it open and entered the forest. It was amazing.

gate 2
gate 3

the cows relaxing
the sheep grazing
a sheep holiday home?
 There were no sounds but the occasional snap of a twig under our feet and the birds calling overhead. Sometimes there was the flapping of wings as a bunch of birds took off over our heads. The foliage was so dense that we never saw them, we just heard them. We stopped more than once to just look at what was around us. It was like being in a magnificent art gallery. The stone wall continued, but it was covered in moss, as were rocks and trees. The shapes were incredible and the many shades of green, brown, and grey provided a limited palette, but a beautiful effect. The moss was growing over everything and the undulating shapes of downed trees and rocks covered in the green moss was striking. Feathery ferns provided a contrast in texture and color to the spongy looking moss. It was breathtaking.

moss covered rocks

moss covering

We walked on through a clearing and back into the woods. In the clearing, we saw a woman with two dogs ahead, so we thought we might be getting close, since she must've entered the path from a different direction than we did. She was soon out of sight and we kept on going until we came to a T-shaped intersection. It was no longer possible to take the path forward--we had to go left or right. I asked Bill which way he wanted to go and he pointed left, so on we went. We could see the lake through the trees to our right and as we went around each curve, we wondered if we were there yet. After what seemed like a long time, we came to an opening in the trees and there we were. The lake was a bit further back in the direction we'd come and in between that and where we were standing was a landscape like nothing I'd ever seen before. There was a floor of pitted rocks and big rocks sitting on the surface. Sadly, people clearly use the spot as a party place--there was plastic garbage strewn about and evidence of fires. Someone had hauled in tire rims to use as fire pits--a couple of them were stacked off to the side and one still had charred wood piled up in it. Obviously it's not a place I'd care to go on a summer night, but on a Thursday afternoon, there was no one else there.

partying zone
Lough Mask " our the prize for the day"
 We carefully made our way through the party zone and toward the lake, being mindful of the rocks that were sticking up and the uneven terrain of the rock floor. Then we were there, on the edge of Lough Mask. Finally. It had taken two hours and about 5 miles of walking to get there, but we were there--and it was well worth the walk. I sat on a rock. The woman and her dogs appeared suddenly and the dogs stuck their heads into my backpack. "They're looking for your sandwich," she said. "You're too late," I told the doggies, "I just ate it!" She got the dogs away from my backpack and they went to the lake for a minute and then they were all gone and we were there alone. There were no houses around, except those we could see across the lake. There were no cars and no boats. There was no sound except for the water sloshing around the rocks and the birds calling.

 I sat on the rock and looked at the birds, the rocks, the water, the "mountains" (this is optimistic--they are hills, but people here call them mountains), the clouds, and the trees. I listened to the sounds of the place. I felt like I was wrapped in a shawl of peace and I felt the way I imagine some people feel in a church. I was filled with awe and wonder just sitting there in that spot. I felt like I belonged there somehow--connected. That rarely happens to me. I always feel apart from what is going on around me, but sitting there yesterday I felt rooted to that spot and like I was exactly where I needed to be.

We sat for a while and I thought of the people I know who would love the spot, too. The clouds moved across the sky white and fluffy to dark and menacing. The Partry Mountains across the lake changed color as the light changed. The water rippled against the rocks. The birds swooped down to the water looking for food. The swans drifted into the grass and occasionally talked to one another. The breeze blew. The smell of seaweed came and went. We sat on our rocks.

searching for food
I knew that we had a 2 hour walk home, but I put off leaving. In the end, we stayed only for an hour, but it was a truly beautiful hour. We agreed that the next time, we will leave earlier than our 11 am departure time so we can stay longer. At 2, we began to make our way back through the woods and over the river. We decided to go home via the riverwalk again and this time there were a few people using the path. I felt a little bit disoriented when we walked up Bower's Lane and onto Main Street with the cars and noise. It was good to get home, though, and put my feet up. I slept well last night.

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