Our day’s rest in Cork was well-timed at roughly the midpoint of our coast to coast walk. A chance to give our backs a needed break from carrying packs. But it’s still hard to leave our comfortable hotel room and catch an early morning bus to Fermoy, the starting point for the last two stretches of the Avondhu Way.
The walk out of Fermoy is a pleasant meander along the Blackwater River, through pastures and alongside rowers quietly plying calm waters. Such is the first half of the day. Pastoral and pleasant. But the bullish Blackwater Way soon rears on its hind legs and exposes its unpredictability. Trouble starts with a small plastic sign post. It has the usual yellow “walking man” icon, indicating we are on the right trail, and a directional arrow. But, below that, is a small sign telling us that, sorry, the trail has been rerouted.
We are off our mapped route now, blindly following our yellow man as he takes us winding up and down along a network of messy logging roads and across a desolate landscape of clearcut. Finally we arrive at our destination, Killavullen. A planned 25-kilometre day transformed into a 32-kilometre slog.
Killavullen rewards us with a pub and a pint of Smithwick’s Irish Red Ale. Patrons greet us as long lost friends, as is common in all Irish pubs, and soon we are watching a soccer match on the bar’s television with a growing throng of men.
Killavullen is a pleasant little community but, like many of its size, there is no place to stay for the night. We’ve pre-arranged our stay in Mallow, a much larger town about 20 kilometres away. From the comfort of our pub bench, I phone the proprietor of Annabella Lodge and, as is also common in Ireland, she is more than willing to pick us up and drive us to her bed and breakfast. We will be staying with her for the next two nights as we continue our trek along the isolated Blackwater Way.
Mallow is a fairly prosperous feeling community with rail service, dairy industry and, to the detriment of its lovely downtown, shopping centres at its outer reaches. Downtown is bustling, to be sure, but it is not hard to spot the many empty shops. Signs of revitalization are also evident, one of which is Peppers, an upscale restaurant dishing up creatively prepared Irish fare.
It seems, no matter how harsh the day’s walk might be, there is usually a wonderful meal at the end.
The next morning requires a taxi ride back to Killavullen. Here, at the front door of the now-closed pub, we head off on the final leg of the Avondhu Way. There’s a sense of luxury to today’s walk. Staying in Mallow for two nights allows us to ditch our backpacks for the day and, instead, use our much lighter day packs filled with no more than our rain gear and a pack lunch.
Once again the trail surprises us, this time with a distance of 27 kilometres, much shorter than the expected 33 kilometres. We gently meander along small country roads, past farmsteads, cows and ruins. We climb through forests that suddenly open to vistas overlooking Mallow, its historic townscape overwhelmed by the monolithic structures of the butter factory.
Bweeng is our destination for the day. It’s little more than a cross-roads for us, with signs and plaques indicating that we are at the end of the Avondhu Way and pointing us west in the direction of the Duhallow Way. But we will leave that for tomorrow. Scattered about the village are several clusters of buildings. Fortunately, one of those is Molly’s Bar, a place to sip our Guinness and Bulmer’s Cider as we wait for Annabella Lodge to obligingly pick us up one more time. The locals are intently watching horse racing on the television, placing wagers between races. They encourage us to hang around for a while to watch an upcoming hurling match. They see it as an important part of our Irish education. But our ride arrives and we are on our way back to Mallow.
Mallow has several fine restaurants we are told, but Peppers draws us back once more for another fine meal. Its full title is Peppers at the White Deer and, after dinner, an amble through the adjacent grounds of Mallow Castle, gives meaning to the lengthy name. The 1598 castle is a fine heap of ruins, its stone walls still supporting intact stone window surrounds, fine reminders of its Jacobean architecture. Next door is its replacement “castle”, a mansion dating back to the 1690s and still in use. Behind both lies a lush pasture, home to a herd of ghostly white fallow deer descended from a pair gifted by Queen Elizabeth 1st to her baby god-daughter, who lived in the castle.
In the soft glow of the evening light, these phantom creatures glow picturesquely against their luxuriant green surrounds. It’s all unicorns and fairy dust on this last night in Mallow.