Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coumshingaun; A walk back in time...

Still smirking from what I witnessed in the Mournes that morning, I drove back to Tipperary in high spirits with one thought on my mind... Where next?

Brandon Mountain was the front runner, Mullaghanattin a close second. The weather was set to be clear countrywide, I could have gone anywhere I fancied. As I said, County Kerry seemed to be the destination.

Until I remembered a mountain range closer to home. One with a feature I've been wanting to get a closer look at for some time.

The Comeraghs are situated in County Waterford and only an hour away from the house. The prominent feature are the glacial coums sculpted from the mountains by unimaginable forces over thousands of years. Coumshingaun is probably the most famous of these coums, it falls dramatically from the vast and desolate Comeragh plateau and until Wednesday I'd never seen it in the flesh.

I'd been here once before but bad weather and a bad feeling in the bones made for an early bath. This day though was different, the weather was bright, I arrived early, clouds were lifting from the ridge nicely. My timing; impeccable. Kilclooney Wood was the starting point for the day. No other cars were there. Its one of the benefits of walking midweek, the weekend crowds are at their desks working hard, or perhaps at their desks sifting through outdoor blogs looking for inspiration for their next trip, which is exactly what I'd be doing if I were them.

After a short stroll through a forested area and past a fake spruce tree (I think) acting as some sort of antenna, I came out onto a boulder field with a view up to the first prominent rock outcrop ahead. The slope here isn't overly steep but relentless all the same and I found myself peeling off to just my baselayer as the sun beat down upon me. I reached the lower part of the ridge in less than an hour and caught my first glimpse of the immense coum. Wisps of cloud still lingered on the top of the ridge ahead but I was confident it would soon dissipate.

Further on, the ridge began to sharpen and I purposely kept to the top instead of playing safe on the narrow path that follows alongside the rocky tors. This route kept the coum in view for the entire length of the first ridge and was an absolute joy. I wouldn't attempt it in low visibility or if there was anything resembling a wind blowing, some parts are surprisingly exposed and care is required.

The back wall of the coum is a breathtaking sight, it rises almost vertically from the corrie lake 335 metres to the crest of the cliffs. They are a geologists dream, what with the rock bands clearly visible. I did a small bit of research into what the rock is here, its predominantly old red sandstone and was formed probably around 380 million years ago when the area of land we now know as Ireland was located somewhere near the equator and had a desert climate which fascinated me. I also found out on the same web page that 350 million years ago Ireland was submerged beneath a shallow tropical sea! To me, trying to get my head around the processes and time involved in changing our landscapes is a folly, but I can't help reading the figures with wonder.

I intend to read more about the geology of our mountains, I feel it will add yet another interesting dimension to my walks. To be walking over whatever mountain, knowing that 20 gazillion years ago a huge collision between two tectonic plates caused an upsurge in the land to form a range that for a time was higher than the Himalayas really excites me.

In Ireland we are lucky enough to be able to do such a thing, Im told the Sperrins in Co. Londonderry along with mountains in Scandinavia, Scotland and believe it or not, the Appalachians in the US were once part of a huge mountain range known as the Caledonian Mountains and are thought to be the highest mountains in history, reaching heights of over 10km.

After a final steep but short scramble I reached the plateau that overlooks the coum, the mist which had been forming at the top of the cliffs was obscuring my view of the lake below. The ground here was icy but it was clear that normally, this area is a soggy bog.

The summit of Fauscoum (792m) lies approximately 400 metres from the edge of the coum and I wanted to bag it, the mist over the plateau made navigation difficult but I took a bearing and followed. There is no real "summit" to speak of, just a bit of ground that happens to be higher than any other, adorned with a small rock cairn and a piece of cloth with the Waterford colours, blue and white.

As I approached the cairn, the mist began to thin and I views of the surrounding areas were exposed. The vast, featureless and boggy plateau opened up before me to the west and north. An entire traverse of these hills would be a real test of navigation and willpower and I believe there is a Comeragh Challenge walk every September or October. I'll keep my eyes peeled for more information on it for later in the year.

I lingered at the summit for a little while, orientating myself with my map, attempting to become familiar with the area as much as possible for another trip in the future. I have a good memory for mountain landscapes, so if I'm ever somewhere new, I try to take in whats around me, it has stood me in good stead in the past.

The coum was calling me and as I saw a large front rolling in from the east, I made my way back towards the cliff walls in hope of some good snaps of the bowl from above. I was in luck, the mist had disappeared, for a while at least.

The view was splendid, from the picture above, its easy to see the route the glacier took as it gouged out this chunk of rock and earth and flowed out into the valley below, depositing its load.

From the cliffs edges, I skirted around to the second ridge where I'd be returning back to the forest where I started out. This ridge wasn't as narrow as the first and proved to be an easy stroll down towards the lower slopes, with only a couple of rock steps to overcome.

A lunch stop allowed me to stop and take a few more snaps and enjoy the scenery on offer. Once again I had the mountains to myself, one of the perks of walking Irelands hills and mountains. The post walk Guinness in the pub afterward never tasted so good after this grand day out.


  1. Absolutely stunning!! Was talking to my mate earlier and he'd been reading your report so it looks like we'll be nipping over the border a few times later in the year.

    I'll need to get a decent book about the mountains in Ireland.

  2. hey Mac E definitely do get down if you can, its worth it. Theres a couple of good books for the irish mountains, paddy dillons 'mountains of ireland' is seen as the 'one stop shop' for walking in ireland and it is excellent. Joss lynam though has a good book too, 'best irish walks' i use both just for ideas and starting points etc.

  3. Terrific post.I amazed.I really like your post....


Got something to say? Please do...