Tourist Trail: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls, Glenariff
As our loyal regular blog readers (or bleaders as I believe the common internet parlance would describe you all?) may remember, back in November myself and my other half attempted to visit Glenariff on an unseasonably sunny Sunday afternoon. We ended up badly off course and en-route to the Giant’s Causeway. Ho hum. Anyway, with our trip to Rome in December followed by all the delightful snow, ice and rain which settled in soon after it took us until last week to finally reach our intended destination.
But we did eventually get there! And I will re-iterate that this is not the easiest place to find – the Forest Service website seems to direct you to their HQ in Garvagh (which is nowhere near Glenariff) and Google maps speaks in an enigmatic tone which helpfully leaves out roundabouts and calls roads by strange names. It feels quite Darby O’Gill and the Little People driving around our fair country from time to time, or for those that have not seen this classic movie (travesty!) then perhaps the words of William Allingham’s poem, ‘The Fairy Folk’, will spring to mind (well, maybe that’s just me!):
Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Anyway, you might have thought the complexities of getting there would have deterred us from meddling with the..err…little men, but you would be wrong. And our perseverance was justly rewarded when we arrived as some prankster or leprechaun type had helpfully jammed the machine in the car park where you are supposed to buy a ticket (£4.20 in case you were wondering) to gain access to the park. But with the machine broken, no one could pay so it was a free day out for all!
Since Glenariff is predominantly well known for its rather magnificent waterfalls (its name comes from the Irish, Gleann Airimh meaning ‘Glen of the Arable Lands’) we decided to take the 3.5km Waterfall Trail through the park and see these up close and personal.
So off we intrepidly set off, down the rushy glen and all that. Signs on the trail informed us that we might see trout in the river or red squirrels in the trees. Alas, none were to be seen that particular day but the forest did feel very spring-like, with green shoots and leaves and moss in abundance and a fresh, growing kind of smell in the air. The waterfall walkway at Glenariff was completely refurbished in 2001-2002 and re-opened in 2003, to the tune of £300,000. It *is* pretty spectacular so it’s no real surprise that it attracts around 50,000 visitors a year. But if you pick the day and time that you visit, you can have parts of the trail almost entirely to yourself and it can feel a bit like being on a completely different planet.
The rivers (the Inver and the Glenariff) have quite a distinctive brown hue – I know hardly anything about natural geography but, according to the BBC, ”Rivers and lakes in northern Europe and North America that have turned brown are returning to a more natural, pre-industrialised state, a study says.” So there you go.
The waterfall walkway makes exploring the forest a lot easier than scrambling up and down muddy tracks would ordinarily be, but nonetheless sturdy, flat shoes would be advisable since it is mucky, slippery and quite steep in places. It is also long! They claim the trail is 3.5km but whether this is inaccurate or whether the acute combination of a winding, steep trail just makes it *feel* a lot longer, you would be advised to bring a bottle of water with you.
Half way roung the trail, one encounters the Laragh Lodge hostelry. This is quite an upmarket joint where people hold wedding receptions and the like, and it can be accessed via a separate road, thus negating the need to hike round the trail in order to get there. The day we were in Glenariff, it was busy with nicely dressed couples and families eating lunch together inside. The various, bedraggled slightly mucky hikers all peered through the windows and continued onwards. The place has stunning, panoramic views of the waterfall but is not particularly walker-friendly. Toilets, for example, are for customer use only and the dining room is quite formal in style, so muddy boots, waterproof jackets and windswept hair not required! There is, however, a little cabin directly adjacent selling souvenir tat, lollies and cold drinks which might be more the kind of thing you’re looking for at this point…
At some point or another we stupidly managed to end up on a different trail, which had beautiful views across the forest, but added another 1.5km onto our total distance travelled. An addition I could have sorely done without, I might point out. As a pregnant and somewhat easily fatigued lady I found the last stage, a rather gruelling entirely uphill kilometre return to the car park almost enough to destroy me, so perhaps something to bear in mind if you have restricted mobility, have young children with you or are just plain lazy (hey, there’s no shame in that!)
I also think that more (in fact any!) public toilets on the way round might be a good idea, since me and almost all the kids we passed on the way, all seemed desperate to go after spending 40 minutes hiking beside a fast flowing river!
The only real ‘facility’ for hikers apparent on the trail were a series of little wooden huts, a cross between a bus stop and something you might find in the Black Forest, in which to seek a very limited form of shelter from the elements.
On returning to the car park you will, however, find tea rooms, a souvenir shop, public toilets and an exhibition centre. The toilets, I am happy to report, were spotlessly clean with soap in the dispensers and a functioning hand dryer. Bliss. The shop sold all the usual blarney you will find in any such Irish souvenir shop, along with ice lollies, crisps, drinks and sweeties. The tea room had, well, tea and I suspect sandwiches. The vast majority of visitors seemed to have their own picnics and be making ample use of the picnic tables outside. We ducked in only for a bottle of water and a Twister icecream, so I can’t comment on other delicacies that may have been on offer in the tea room or their prices.
Most disappointing, however, was the dim and dingy exhibition which is supposed to tell you about Glenariff. The small room smelt damp and musty, it was poorly lit, the exhibitions were universally uninspiring and dull and it lacked both the historical and natural history detail that would have made it interesting for adults and the colourful appeal that would have made it a hit with the kids. I was quite looking forward to reading some history about the area, the family that used to own the land and the work the railway company did to develop it a century ago but all in all, I probably wouldn’t bother with this, although it is included in your admission price.
There is a book you can get your hands on by Robert Sharpe called A Glimpse at Glenariffe, so for anyone particularly interested in the local history this is probably a better bet.
So, in summary, as a tourist destination here is how W[r]ite Noise feels Glenariff ranks:
- Ease of Access: 3.5/5 – difficult enough to find and once you’re there there the trails aren’t always well marked. But plenty of car parking and the waterfall walkway greatly improves access
- Scenery: 5/5 – mystical, breathtaking, beautiful, unforgettable
- Entertainment: 3/5 – if the scenery isn’t enough to keep you entertained, then the exhibition and the slightly faded tea rooms certainly won’t be. But bring a frisbee or a football, there’s plenty of relatively flat grassy land around the car park for a kick around, or start off with a fancy lunch in Laragh Lodge before you become muddy and bedraggled.
- Value: 4/5 – £4.20 per car isn’t too bad at all, but they could do with updating the visitor’s centre.