Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
3 October 2009
28. Glen Wood Trail, Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh
You couldn’t conceive of a more perfect example of classical symmetry than Florence Court House, if you ruffled through Palladio’s pattern-books for a month of Sundays. The square-built house of the Earls of Enniskillen gleamed in the strong sun, its arcaded wings of silvery stone extended as if for flight, as Jane and I surveyed it from a clearing in the oakwoods of Florence Court park. The amorphous bulge of Cuilcagh Mountain blocked in the background, with the Cardinal’s hat of Benaughlin alongside. Whatever else County Fermanagh holds by way of stunning views, this prospect of art and nature beautifully juxtaposed would take some beating.
The Glen View Trail through the Florence Court woods lay spattered with blots of inky shade and intense light. Out on the grasslands huge specimen trees – oaks, beeches, chestnuts, yews – stood storm-beaten, splintered and amputated, bowed but not broken down by centuries of gales and lightning strikes. Surely the famous Florence Court Yew, 250 years old and endlessly harvested for seedlings, must be the most battered of all? So we imagined; but when we came on the venerable Taxus baccata fastigiata on its little saddle of grass, the original Irish yew looked in remarkably rude health. It was George Wills, a tenant farmer, who found two strange-looking seedlings at Carrick-na-Madagh on the slopes of Cuilcagh back in the 1760s. The one he planted in his own garden died, but the seedling he gave to the Earl of Enniskillen did remarkably well – so much so that the whole race of the Irish yew, in every corner of the world, is directly descended from its cuttings and those of its long-deceased sibling.
We fell in with another couple, keen members of the Fermanagh Ramblers Club, who walked a step of the way with us, talking of the pleasures and problems of working out routes through the patchwork of privately owned properties that make up their native county. What a debt the country walkers of Ireland owe to these local clubs of rambling enthusiasts, volunteers one and all, who tirelessly and tactfully liaise with farmers and landowners all across the island.
Now the track crossed the cascades of a brace of streams, and began to climb among the trees. Puffballs lay half concealed in the grasses, where clumps of eyebright rose on stalks elongated by the need to reach the sunlight in their shady situation. Magnificent peacock butterflies sunned themselves on the warm pebbles of the path, spreading wings so extravagantly colourful they might have been freshly painted that morning. We left the Glen View Trail and headed on up the Cuilcagh Way long-distance track to the upper edge of the trees, where rowan trees blazed orange with early autumn berries. The prow of Benaughlin, curved outward and downward like the forefoot of an upturned ship, suddenly stood near and dominant. The fractured waters and islands of Upper Lough Erne splashed the lowlands beyond with scattered gleams. A stunner of a panorama, more than worth the muddy climb up to it.
Back on the Glen View Trail, we followed the circuit on down to where the Cuilcagh Way cut. Split tongues of monbretia poked in startling orange out from thickets of horsetails lining the damp margins of the track. Bees were busy in their hundreds on the flowerheads of umbellifers that we tried in vain to identify. Memo to self: must brush up on that.
Back in the gardens of Florence Court House we passed below a dripping wooden aqueduct or headrace that fed a big cast-iron waterwheel. In the shed alongside, a wicked-looking circular saw whirred round. Roughly sawn planks lay nearby. There was a fine resinous smell of sawdust, a quiet clanking from the wheel and a rattle from the slack old driving belt. Closing my eyes, I could easily imagine it was 1909 and the intervening century had never even been.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 26; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.walkni.com
TRAVEL: Florence Court is signposted from A32 Enniskillen-Swanlinbar road.
WALK DIRECTIONS: From Forest Park car park, follow Glen Wood Trail/GWT red arrows and Cuilcagh Way/CW signs. After 2¾ miles, CW and GWT diverge at Finlane (OS ref H 168330). To continue along GWT, follow forest road to right (red arrow). To enjoy a superb view of Benaughlin Mountain, keep ahead here southwards up CW for ½ mile (narrow, muddy path!) to stile at edge of trees (168321); then return to Finlane and bear left on GWT. In ⅔ mile GWT rejoins CW (163335); right here and follow CW back to car park.
LENGTH: 5 miles (6 with Benaughlin view detour): allow 2-3 hours
CONDITIONS: Good surfaced paths
DON’T MISS … !
• Sawmill and waterwheel
• The Florence Court Yew
• Benaughlin view
REFRESHMENTS: Florence Court tearooms
ACCOMMODATION: Arch House Guesthouse, 59 Marble Arch Road, Florencecourt, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh BT92 1DE; (00-44) 028-6634-8452; www.archhouse.com
GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Leaflet guides to Glen Wood Way available at Florence Court Tearooms and gift shop
INFORMATION: Florence Court (National Trust): tel (00-44) 028-6634-8249; http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-florencecourt. Gardens/Park open year round (car: £3.50); House open Feb-Nov, varying days (check before arriving) – £5 tour. NT members free.
Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.walkni.com; www.discoverireland.ie/walking
NATIONAL TRAILS DAY 2009: Sunday 4 October (www.nationaltrailsday.ie)
Tourist Office: Enniskillen TIC, Wellington Road; tel (00-44) 028-6632-3110; www.fermanaghlakelands.com; www.discovernorthernireland.com