Where the East Munster Way ends, in front of a small church in Clogheen, so begins the Avondhu Way. It’s the first leg of a much longer trail system, the Blackwater Way, named after and loosely following Ireland’s longest river, the Blackwater.
Blackwater Way carries a certain amount of mystery and uncertainty. Of all the trails that form the Irish coast-to-coast network, this one has the least information available. And what information that can be found talks about poor or missing signage, reroutings due to landowner quibbles, too much travel on tarmac. And its remoteness.
What’s not said is the absolute beauty of the trail coupled with some of the most challenging hiking Gail and I have encountered on our long distance walks.
Let’s start with these first two days on the Avondhu Way. Leaving Clogheen, the trail gently climbs through forest up into barren moors, past a small reflective lake until The Gap is reached. Here, at this mountain pass, we find a curious barrel-vaulted stone structure, ancient in appearance but actually a shelter dating back to the days of a horse drawn coach company. Nearby is a small shrine, where a special Easter service is usually held. Not this year though. Easter arrived a little too early for this cold, windswept corner of Ireland.
The true workout comes just a little further on with a near vertical climb up slopes of peat. So vertical that a rest to catch our breath is needed every few minutes. But the views along the way and at the top are spectacular. Dark clouds hang over the desolate beauty of the moors as we make our way across the peak.
The route continues to our destination, the hamlet of Mountain Barracks. Here, the remoteness of this place is evident. We’ve walked 31 kilometer’s and ended our day in a place so small that the local pub has, sadly for we thirsty walkers, been converted into a Christian retreat. And there are no accommodations for miles around. So we have summoned a taxi to take us the 20 or so kilometers to Fermoy. It’s a larger community and our lodging at Abbeyville House – another large historic house – is welcome comfort. As is a steak of grass-fed Irish beef at the nearby hotel.
A taxi takes us back to remote Mountain Barracks the next morning. We depart from the dearly-departed pub and head, strangely enough, back to Fermoy. Such is the reality of our travels on the Blackwater Way: walks through remote lands, destinations that can barely support a pub, lifts to distant towns in search of places to sleep.
This time, our return to Fermoy on foot is the start of our brief holiday from walking. A bus transports us in slightly less than an hour to the city of Cork, a charming city with the equally charming Hotel Isaacs. This would be our home for the next two nights.
We head downstairs from our hotel room for a little high cuisine at Green’s Restaurant, savouring a three-course meal and some fine wine while, just beyond a wall of windows, a waterfall splashes down the slopes of a natural rock outcrop.