Glengarriff Woods … let your eyes follow the filtering sunlight as it moves in between oak and beech leaves from the canopy onto the forest floor, dappling the earth with light and dark. Take a deep breath. The smell of fallen Scot’s pine needles and damp rock from the river fills your mind with peace. As you walk your eyes notice a clearing up ahead and as your feet shuffle softly on the dirt you come to a meadow. A handful of crowning old oaks are sprinkled throughout the expanse of grass and sedge. They beckon you forward to sit underneath them for a little while … you know, just to be.
This is Glengarriff Woods in SW County Cork. And this is one of the main reasons we chose to run our September 2018 retreat here. It’s a magic place.
So, if you walk through these old oak woods, what will you discover? Plenty.
The trails and tracks of Sika deer can be found winding through the woodland. These deer were imported in the early 1800’s for the Earl of Bantry to hunt. They wear a light reddish-brown coat with white spots and a black stripe down their back and can be found grazing on herbs, heather, and young tree shoots. I’ve never seen one in the woodlands itself, but I’ve seen them in the greater Glengarriff area. They are beautiful. And shy.
I recently found out that pine martens live in these woods as well! Also known as a tree cat, they have been making a comeback in the woods in recent years. Otters, stoats, bats, foxes, badgers, feral goats, and hedgehogs can also be found throughout. Barn owls, long-eared owls, robins, tits, and the chaffinch are year-round residents while in the Autumn during out retreat time the redwings and fieldfares from Scandanavia arrive to over winter. The forest is truly alive with life.
On the more mature oaks you’ll find Ireland’s only arboreal ant. Their colonies are known to stay with one particular oak for over a century! Can you imagine? That is a truly long-term relationship:) And in the Glengarriff River that wends through the park you can find Ireland’s only freshwater pearl mussel. These bivalve molluscs can live to be over 120 years old and are in decline due to habitat destruction.
Hiberno-lusitanian species are a feature of the woods. These plants occur almost exclusively in south-west Ireland and in northern parts of Spain and Portugal. Species in this group include two species of saxifrage, St. Patricks Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis) and Kidney-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirsuta). Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) and Large-flower Butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora) are other examples. One of the best known plants in this group is the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). Its range extends to the Mediterranean area and in the woods of Glengarriff it occurs on rocky outcrops. You can easily find one located near Lady Bantry’s Lookout. As the name suggests, this place also provides a great view of the village and surrounding forest.
When it comes to trees, this woodland has lovely variety. There is a sizeable area of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland comprised of Oak (Quercus petraea) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium), with plenty of Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) and Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) sprinkled through. A little Yew (Taxus baccata) occurs and as mentioned above, the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) are also present.
There is much small-scale variation in the ground flora, including heathy vegetation with Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Great Wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica) and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Common woodland herbs include Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna), Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) and Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Ferns, include Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant), a characteristic species of old oak woodland, and Hay-scented Buckler Fern (Dryopteris aemula).
This woodland is an amazing place for a walk during a full moon. Just as the sunlight ripples through the leaves, so does the moonlight, creating a sense of mystery as you walk between the dark and light. The last night of Retreat to Ireland this September is a full moon … so we may get the chance to see and feel this experience together.
There are also some deep pools along the river for swimming, multiple trails to explore, and plenty of colorful locals to meet and learn from. Glengarriff Woods is one of my favorite places in this area and I’ve spent so much time wandering around, both on trails and off. It’s my hope that when you join us this September you too will develop your own special connection with this place and that it will touch your mind and heart with it’s simple magic.