Trails of the Vales – from then to Now!
It’s not always easy to stay the course when the elements turn. The shelter we seek lies camouflaged beneath the foliage of an unforgiving world. The wind picks up as if to forewarn us of what is coming our way. There can be nowhere to hide when the storm descends. We stand and stare, as if paralysed by fear, feeling the elemental fury of it all. The path, once clear and inviting, now becomes obscure. Time stands still as we wait for the darkened veil to life. Soon, a strange stillness descends. Mystical rays rise from the shadows to light the way for the solitary pilgrims below.
I’ll be honest with you, the odyssey we’ve been on with our Waterford Camino Tours has challenged us at times. There have been days when it seemed like the elements have conspired against us; others when we feel the wind at our back. We’ve all been there. It’s in those very times when we are tested most that we come face to face with the truth about ourselves. We learn what we’re made of. We soon discover reserves of strength we never knew we had. We find what it takes to make our way home.
No matter where we travel in life, we cannot do it alone. True friends have a value beyond what the world can measure. Those who stay the course with you are of a unique kind. Some will lift you up when your energies begin to wane, some will drop you with merciless abandon when they decide you’ve nothing left to give. You can build an empire around decent people.
Our tours depend on our team who help make the magic happen; Brendan on our boat trips around the Bay in Dunmore East, John who sorts all our coach transfers along St Declan’s Way, Conor who walks the path with us every step of the way, Graham who makes sure we want for nothing when we visit Wales… the common denominator; just sound people who live by the premise that if you can be anything at all in life, just be kind.
Under our Celtic Ways Ireland Series, we’re rolling out a Celtic corridor of sorts that will connect iconic trails in Ireland’s South East with hidden gems across the Munster Vales and even along the Western Coastline of Wales. We’ve just returned from a ‘reci’ mission in the Munster Vales and are now crafting a unique #trailsofthevales experience that weaves magical outdoor trails and adventures into the stories and the culture of the places we pass along the way. Right now we’re pooling our creative energies into creating a plethora of tour offerings from Wicklow to Wexford to Waterford and on across the Munster Vales that will have domestic and international appeal. Step by step, we’re getting there!
The Munster Vales is an inland tourism destination in the heart of Munster, of domestic and international significance incorporating the Comeragh, Knockmealdown, Galtee, Ballyhoura and Nagles mountain ranges. The purpose of Munster Vales is to promote the geographical area as a unique brand, linking the counties of Waterford, Tipperary, Cork and Limerick and everything in between. The stunning landscape in the farming heartland of Ireland will take your breath away from the depths of the valleys to the tops of the mountains.
#trailsofthevales opens up a world you may not have known before; mystical landscapes, delightful towns and villages, thrilling cycling in Ballyhoura, or restful strolls along the meandering River Suir. Here pilgrim paths and heritage towns are the backdrop to rolling mountains which are brought to life through tracks and trails and engaging local folklore. Over the few days, you come to immerse yourself almost unknowingly in 5,000 years of history and culture and delve into the soul of a land and its people that has shaped us all. It pays to come off the familiar pathways and discover something new. Here’s a snapshot of what those who join us in the Munster Vales can expect…
Doneraile in North Cork is a hidden gem that is slowly finding its own unique place on the tourism landscape. Your trail through the gardens and around the park invites you to go deeper into the story of this place and its people. Here, on the outer frontiers of North Cork, you learn to slow the pulse right down and simply soak in the serenity and the calm. Doneraile leads you into a space that remains untouched by time.
(Munster Vales image)
Doneraile Park comprises approximately 166 hectares and is an outstanding example of an 18th century landscaped park in the ‘Capability Brown’ style. Mature groves of deciduous trees, several restored water features and a number of deer herds can be viewed along the many pathways within the Park. Standing proudly on Doneraile Main Street is a beautifully restored three-story Victorian building that has been there since the 1880s. It’s good to unwind here after the walking is done. We always try to mix the active with the restful. It’s all about balance.
Café Townhouse is pure luxury, with a relaxing feel. This Café exudes class. You’re drawn in by the warmth of the fireplace, the genuine welcome to match the quality of service, the stunning decor with its ebullient colour – the equilibrium between old and new. You are made feel at home from the moment you step foot inside the door. The food is so tasty. It’s the perfect ‘still zone’ from the world you have left behind.
If you would like to get a real feel for an Irish woodland and riverbank with at least forty shades of green then the Ballyhoura Mountain Loop is the perfect solution. The Keale River is a level walk of 7km fenced from start to finish with many little bridges in between and is followed by the 6km Molanna Loop. The river’s flow sets the tone for the day. It is peaceful and quiet, with very active wildlife such as otters, dippers, kingfishers, Herons and squirrels. You will also come across one of the last indigenous oak tree woodlands left in Ireland with many anemone, bluebells or mushrooms depending on the time of year. There’s a strange kind of harmony in places like this. It echoes deep long after the walking is over.
Lough Gur is an ancient place, a place where the past remains present and where the unlikely suddenly seems possible. There is a deep peace to be found at Lough Gur. It is a calm place, oftentimes shrouded in a comforting and companionable silence. It pays to rest awhile by the water’s edge and feel the pulse of the universe as it opens up before you.
(Munster Vales image)
Lough Gur is at the heart of one of Ireland’s most complex archaeological landscapes. The history of Ireland has happened along the shores of Lough Gur and the lakeside is dotted with castles, ringforts, standing stones, wedge tombs and the iconic Grange Stone Circle, the largest of its kind in Ireland whose great megaliths have stood as silent sentinels over the landscape here for almost 5,000 years. Something drew those early farmers here, all those millennia ago, and that same force continues to draw people here today.
The 8km King’s Loop Walk brings you back in time to view this home of the King’s from a whole new vantage point. The trail follows a newly created pathway off the Golden Road before leading you along a woodland path and eventually arriving at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. Though a newly created walkway, it invites you to go deeper into the story and the beauty of this town synonymous with the early Kings of Ireland.
(Munster Vales image)
Along the way, we pass the ruins of an old monastic abbey. Today it lies, shaded in antiquity, as if to nod solemnly to its sacred past. Hore Abbey (also Hoare Abbey, sometimes known as St.Mary’s) is a ruined Cistercian monastery near the Rock of Cashel. ‘Hore’ is thought to derive from ‘iubhair’ – yew tree. The former Benedictine abbey at Hore was given to the Cistercians by Archbishop David MacCearbhaill (in 1270), who later entered the monastery. He endowed the Abbey generously with land, mills and other benefices previously belonging to the town.
As our 8km loop draws to a close, we arrive at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. We become today’s travellers in a timeless odyssey that dates back many centuries. The Rock of Cashel was held by the kings of Munster for generations until Brian Boru’s brother Mahon took the throne of Cashel in 963 and when Brian crowned himself King of Munster the ceremony told place at the Rock of Cashel.
The Rock of Cashel is reputed to be the site of the baptism of King Aengus of Munster by Saint Patrick in 432. Aengus became Ireland’s first Christian king. It was at this time that St Patrick met Declan of Ardmore and the return journey of Declan forms the route of the St Declan’s Way Camino.
It was brutally sacked by English Parliamentarian troops which were part of the Cromwellian forces in 1647 which led to a massacre of over 1000 people and extensive looting. Whatever wasn’t stolen was destroyed or defaced and the town of Cashel was torched by the departing soldiers. Cashel is deserving of its status as one of Ireland’s most hallowed places.
(Munster Vales image)
We’re excited to add our #trailsofthevales to our Celtic Ways Ireland Series. We had never visited Doneraile, Ballyhoura or Lough Gur until now. Our few days across the Munster Vales have convinced us we’re on the right track. The magic of Camino lies in the discovery of new spaces. Here, somewhere beyond our normal frontiers, we leave our footprint on the land for those yet to walk this way… each a stepping stone to a world we cannot leave behind.
Dr Phil and Elaine are looking forward to rolling out our Celtic Ways Series in 2023. Our ‘Trails of the Vales’ includes 2 nights dinner, bed and breakfast in Deebert House Hotel, Kilmallock, overnight and Gala Dinner in Baileys Hotel Cashel, coach transfers, packed lunches and guest guides. For further information check out www.waterfordcamino.com or email Phil and Elaine directly on firstname.lastname@example.org