Trip 1

Day Two: The Secret Glen

Dear diary, today is a nice day but very cloudy. We went to Penney’s. I got new shoes. Sinéad got the same shoes but in a different colour.

map of route for Day 2 on the Coolera peninsula
Map of route by mintybyname

The shoes are not an extravagance but a necessity – some of us were not wearing appropriate footwear for muddy caves the day before. And we’re only going to get muckier as today we’re heading to the secret glen.

We could tell you to look for the well on the side of the road and that the gate to the glen is opposite it. It would still be almost impossible to find and I’m not entirely sure we want you to find it. The most amazing thing about the Glen was its eerie emptiness. We pushed through vegetation and found an archway where trees were growing towards each other from each side, as if trying to block it. A gate that didn’t fit the arch lay mangled and trampled on the ground. Had an army of underworld creatures emerged from here? It felt within the bounds of possibility.

Had an army of underworld creatures emerged from here? It felt within the bounds of possibility.

The muddy, dense pathway through the trees didn’t look like it would lead anywhere but the route was fascinating; the walls on one side sheer limestone covered in moss, the other side a steep drop into what looked like jungle. Then we dawdled under trees forming a natural gateway and there it was – a liminal space, an otherworld. Was this Tir na nÓg? Was time moving more slowly outside the glen? We would know for sure if we got back to the car and our lunch was spoiled!

The glen is a mini glacial valley, a natural walled garden but from another time. Prehistoric ferns and moss cover the height of the limestone walls which rise several meters above our heads. Trees grow in the centre of the space, reaching towards what little light can be found above. Someone had built a fire pit and a rope swing from the trees. A Pagan playpark? There was birdsong but it was eerily devoid of any human noise and preternaturally still, with muted light filtering through the trees. It felt like a sacred place, hidden for a reason. We left an offering for the fairy folk (just in case), then spend many tries mastering our selfie faces. A part of me was constantly alert for the pterodactyls I felt sure could swoop at any time.

The car was there when we returned, not towed, not rusted. The food was still fresh. The offering paid off.

After our trek, and with the insufficient footwear of the day before in mind, we chickened out of a trek up Knocknarea to Queen Meadhbh’s tomb. Refreshment was required, and a return to the light. So we headed to nearby Culleenamore beach for a picnic. It is perhaps the quietest and least wild beach of the Atlantic way as it has no ocean swell but is no less stunning for that. We sat in the shadow of Knocknarea, Meadhbh’s tomb not visible from this angle, with the exposed mountainside presenting the same sheer limestone face as the glen. It was surely for this that the word monolith was coined.

The beach’s information board promised wildlife but we spotted no seals, only horses racing on the long flat sands at low tide, the sound of their galloping carrying across the strand. The acoustics were unique, oppressive due to the stillness of the water and the vast stretches of sand, combined with the cloudiness and the solid backdrop of Knocknarea. Fittingly, in this timeless place, the hoof prints left by the horses made the shape of an Infinity symbol.