The name Glengarriff is derived from the Irish Gleann Gairbh, which translates as the rough or rugged glen. The setting of Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve is spectacular, with the woods nestled in the sheltered glen opening out into Glengarriff Harbour. Above the woods rise the Caha Mountains, with their dramatic layers of sheer rock.
Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve covers some 300ha, with the dominant habitats being old oak woodland and young woodland, which is regenerating in areas that have been cleared of non-native conifers over the last few years. The woods form one of the best examples of oceanic sessile oak woodland in Ireland, being rated second only in importance to the Killarney oakwoods. The Nature Reserve is part of the much larger Glengarriff Harbour and Woodlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
At one time, the woods were part of Lord Bantry’s estate, but they were handed over to the State in 1955 for forestry purposes. However in 1991, the woods were designated as a Nature Reserve and the woodland is now owned and managed by NPWS primarily for conservation and amenity purposes.
A variety of trails are provided in the Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve to suit a range of abilities. You can take a gentle amble along the River Walk or make the steep, but rewarding climb up to Lady Bantry’s Lookout. Longer options include the Big Meadow circuit, which takes you through woodlands and old grassland, or the more rugged Esknamucky Trail, with its wonderful views out over the trees to the mountains beyond.
The Nature Reserve’s main car park is the starting point for all the walks. All walks require strong shoes, with walking boots recommended for the Esknamucky Walk and Lady Bantry’s Lookout.
The River Walk
Distance: 1km Duration: 25 minutes Standard: easy Terrain: footpath, mostly level
This is a lovely introduction to Glengarriff Nature Reserve, taking you on a gentle wander through old oak woods and along the banks of the Glengarriff River.Take time to look around and see the ferns,mosses and lichens growing on the old oak trees – this lush growth is typical of the oceanic woodlands in the south-west of Ireland, where the gulf stream ensures the climate is warm and wet. Beneath the oak canopy, the most common tree is the evergreen Holly with its prickly leaves and red berries. Looking down into the river you may be lucky to spot a Freshwater Pearl Mussel. This rare species lives to over 120years old, making it the longest living animal in Ireland.
Directions: Leaving the main car park cross the footbridge and turn left. Half way round this circular walk, is a footbridge (cross the bridge if you wish to embark on the Big Meadow walk). To continue the River Walk, ignore the bridge and carry straight on until you near the public road. Climb the steps and in a few minutes you’ll be back at the car park.
Lady Bantry’s Lookout
Distance: 1km Duration: 30 minutes Standard: moderate Terrain: steep footpath with steps
This walk is a must on any fine day. The climb up through the woods is steep, but the effort is worth it. From the top there are fantastic panoramic views over Glengarriff to Garinish Island, Whiddy Island and Bantry Bay. To the north you can see the full extent of Glengarriff woodlands, nestling in the rugged glen rimmed by the Caha Mountains.
Directions: From the carpark head south along the track to the bend. Cross the narrow footbridge and head up the footpath, which follows the line of an ancient road down the Beara peninsula. Crossing the public road, the steep ascent begins. As you near the top, one of the last trees on the left is a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). Lookout for the characteristic red fruit in late summer. To return to the car park retrace your steps.
Distance: 3km Duration: 90 minutes Standard: easy Terrain: footpath and woodland track. Mostly level.
The unique feature of this walk is the Big Meadow, an area of old grassland that has not been fertilised or ploughed in living memory. There are hundreds of anthills, swathes of wild flowers and several stately oaks. In winter the meadow is grazed by Kerry cattle to help stop scrub invading the grassland. After passing through the meadow, you walk along a woodland track where Beech, Eucalyptus and Scot’s Pine feature. Beyond the Scot’s Pine is a new lake that was successfully created for the rare Downy Emerald dragonfly. Much of area near the lake is lush with regenerating woodland, which has developed naturally after the area was cleared of conifer plantations.
Directions: Take the River Walk until you reach a footbridge. Cross this bridge, keep left and cross a second bridge. Turn right to reach the Big Meadow. At the end of the meadow turn left through Beech trees along a forest track and past a small lake. Just before the gate onto the public road turn left onto a track. Follow the track for 1.3km until you reach the sign to Lady Bantry’s Lookout. Turn left to get back to the carpark (or right if you still have the energy to climb up to the viewing point).
Distance: 2.8km Duration: 90 minutes Standard: moderate Terrain: steep footpath with steps
Otherwise known as the High Walk, this trail climbs up through the woods for some fantastic views over the trees to the mountains beyond. It can be easily combined with the Waterfall Walk.
Directions: Leaving the carpark follow the track north to the public road and turn left. After a short distance you will cross a stone bridge over the Canrooska River. Take the right hand path at the picnic table and follow the path along the river bank to a small waterfall (which is especially impressive after rain). Soon after, the path climbs up to a series of viewing points before descending again to a forest track by a grove of Eucalpytus trees. Turn left off the forest track onto a path that winds its way down to the public road. Cross this road and turn left onto the River Walk and the car park is reached in a few minutes.
Distance: 0.5km Duration: 15 minutes Standard: easy Terrain: gentle slope.
The waterfall, which is especially impressive after rain, is on the Canrooska River which flows down to meet the main Glengarriff River.
Directions: Leaving the car park, follow the track north to the public road and turn left. After a short distance you will cross a stone bridge over the Canrooska River. Take the right hand path at the picnic table and follow the path along the riverbank to a small waterfall. Return by the same path and either take the Esknamucky Trail or return to the car park.
Blue Pool Park
Blue Pool Park is a beautiful public area in the heart of the Village. It is all accessible by foot from a
number of points and is an ideal place for exploring and relaxing for all ages. It takes in the two ferry departure points within the village – the pier and The Blue Pool – together with several shore side trails and loop walks.
Of particular note is Seal Point with its magnificent stand of Scots Pine trees – the only native conifers. A regeneration programme within this area has also identified a number of ancient sites and it is hoped to develop these in the future. Seal Point is also a particularly good viewpoint for all of the inner harbour, highlighting the Seal Colony and it is a popular traditional bathing area.
The Park has a newly installed rustic-style children’s playground which is proving immensely popular and well worth a visit.