The below extracts of 'Stopping by Woods' are published with kind permission of the Author Donal Magner
WOODLAND WALKS IN COUNTY WICKLOW
County Wicklow is regarded as the home of Irish forestry. It has maintained its links - however tenuous - with the great primeval forests. Three semi-natural woodlands managed by the NPWS in Glendalough, Vale Of Clara and Tomnafinnoge illustrate Wicklow's rich woodland heritage. Although the Royal Forest that once existed around Glencree is long gone, efforts are being made to recreate a native woodland in Cloon-Oak Glen and to introduce and conserve native species in Knocksink as well as the People's Millennium Forests in Ballygannon.
Wicklow was the focal county of the State's drive to restore Ireland's forests when Avondale was purchased in 1904 along with land around Rathdrum and later Glendalough and Aughrim. New forests were established on poor mountainous sites such as Glenmalure, Glen of Imaal, Roundwood and Glencree. On more low-lying and hilly sites, forest establishment took place on old woodland estates, especially along the eastern side of the county from Shelton in the south to Delgany in the north, which includes Kindlestown and the Glen of the Downs.
Forest cover in Wicklow, at 18% of the land area, is 60% higher than the national average. As a result, it has the highest density of recreational forests in Ireland and a strong wood culture, which extends beyond the forest, to include timber and related industries such as sawmilling, forest nurseries, tourism, furniture-making and woodcrafts.
The following are the main Wicklow recreation forest and parks:
- Aughrim-Sean Linehan
- Ballygannon (B. East and B. West)
- Ballymoyle Hill
- Cloon-Oak Glen
- Coronation Plantation
- Deputy's Pass
- Devil's Glen
- Glen of the Down
- Mount Kennedy
- Roundwood - Vartry Walk
- Tomnafinnoge (See below for Extract about Tomnafinnoge from Stopping by Woods)
- Vale of Clara
Tomnafinnoge Wood came to national prominence in the late 1970s and 80s when most of the best oak was felled in what was left of the ancient forest of Shillelagh. But in truth, the exploitation of the mainly sessile oak woods in south Wicklow began at least four centuries earlier. Iron smelting, which lasted until 1767, contributed enormously to their decline, while Shillelagh oak was prized for shipbuilding and large-scale timber construction projects.
The estate, which was the Irish seat of the Earls of Fitzwilliam, was restored over time and, if anything, was underused for timber during much of the last century. When it was sold to the Bridgewater Company in 1976, the wooded section of the estate covered over 500 ha, which included 175 ha of broadleaves, mainly oak.
The new owners decided to develop it and sought felling licences to clearfell the woods. When these were refused, they sought compensation from Wicklow County Council. The Council was unable to provide compensation so permission was granted for clearfelling, which took place over a number of years. Public protests followed and eventually the government intervened - the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey took a personal interest in the project. The remaining wood at Tomnafinnoge, covering an area of 66 ha was saved and is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
There is a car park (P) at the main entrance and a 200-m boardwalk to the bridge (1), which spans the River Derry. The river holds salmon and trout and is regarded as a good spawning river for the Slaney, which it joins 16 km to the southwest, near Clonegal.
Continue on this route, which was once the main road into the estate. The vegetation is typical of a semi-natural wood and includes bilberry, bracken, great wood rush, bramble and wood sorrel. The shrub layer contains holly and hazel, coppiced in Tomnafinnoge in the past for charcoal-making.
You can take a walk to the left from here (2) via a forest path that runs close to the boundary where there are fine oak and beech trees. The beech may be removed over time, the species is not native to Ireland. However, beech is a naturalised species and has been in Ireland for four centuries and may even date to Norman times, so there is a historical, if not ecological, case for its retention.
You can explore this section of the wood or return to the woodland road and continue on for about 200 m and turn left where there are two fine oak and beech specimen trees (3). Take the pathway for about 100 m (4). Then veer right until you come to an area where rhododendron (5) has been cleared to allow the oak to naturally regenerate. This species of rhododendron - R. ponticum - is a native to the Mediterranean and unfortunately is an invasive shrub capable of inhibiting natural regeneration.
There is evidence of some natural regeneration of sessile oak in Tomnafinnoge. Where oak fails to propagate naturally, the area is planted with seedlings grown from acorns collected from the best individual trees (or seed trees) growing in the wood.
On the right of the pathway, shafts of sunlight reach the forest floor in spring encouraging the growth of a thick, lush carpet of bluebells (6). Further on there is massive beech, probably 180 years old, and, at the boundary (7), a mixed conifer and oak plantation was established by the owners after clearfelling. Take an undefined pathway to the right and follow a ditch - for about 100 m - back down to the forest road (8). The NPWS has plans to construct a pathway in this area to facilitate visitors.
Continue along the road to where a boulder (9), erected in 1994, marks the year Tomnafinnoge was purchased by the State. Nearby, a plaque by the sculptor Vincent Browne commemorates Jerome Stephens, a haemophiliac who died in 1993 after contracting HIV from contaminated blood. Towards the end of the road, there are Scots pine, laurel and rhododendron (10). Here the weir on the River Derry, located close to the bridge, has been restored. Just across the river is the disused railway line that once served the Fitzwilliam estate.
Retrace your steps to the forest road and continue past a small stand of aspen on the left hand side of road (11). The leaves of this native poplar make a distinctive fluttering sound in summer when disturbed by a gentle breeze. A little further on (12) the abutments of a bridge that linked the road across the railway line still stand.
Continue along the road to the boardwalk and back to the car park. In all, there are over 4 km of roads and pathways through the wood including three colour-coded trails. These comprise the river walk (2-4 km), hazel loop (1.5 km) and the oak loop (3.2 km).
How to get to Tomnafinnoge: from Tinahely take the Shillelagh road (R749) for about 3 km and turn left. The entrance to the wood is on the right after less than 1 km. From Shillelagh take the R749 for Tinahely and take a right after 4 km. (OS Discovery Map No. 62; grid reference T 010 690.)
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