Out and About in Laois
If you ever have a few hours to spare, and the kids are full of holiday energy, take a stroll around Garryhinch Woods. Located just a five-minute drive from Portalington on the R423, this is a gentle stroll and perfectly suited to families. The wood are part of the historic Warburton estate that once covered almost 6000 acres.
Two looped trails are available. The Garryhinch Walk through the woodlands and the Barrow loop that skirts the river, and also takes you through the forest. Both are suitable for families with children, and why not pick up a few cheap nets in the 2euro store. These can be used to trap butterflies, and a washed out jam jar makes a safe holding pen. There is a large car park, and on the day we did the walk there were plenty of other visitors.
The picnic benches are situated underneath a towering ash tree, and provided us with the first necessary stop of the day. Also it gave us the chance to read the excellent information panel, about the history of woods and the walks. A panel on the wildlife would be really beneficial, and would provide an added insight into the flora and fauna encountered during the walk.
Refreshed and full we began the Barrow loop beneath the dappled shade of the Beech trees. Light can still reach the ground, and this creates a rich habitat at ground level. Brambles, nettles, herb robert and hawthorn trees planted by bird droppings all provide food and shelter for woodland creatures. This basement level planting is one of the main reasons, why deciduous woods support a greater diversity of life than pure conifer.
Our first flower is the attractive named Enchanters nightshade. It has small white flowers and thrives in shaded conditions. Snowberry can be an invasive shrub and has taken over patches of the woodland floor. As children we used to call its white berries “billy busters”. You would put the berry close to your friend’s ear, and squeeze, and the juices and seeds would squirt out.
We meet lots of families and their dogs who are also out for a stroll. This is a good sign for any walk, as little legs are often the first to tire and lose interest. The next plant is still a mystery as long vines are hanging from some of the trees. I try and pull one down but they have a firm grip in the canopy. At first I think ivy, but the stems consist of long fibres and it almost has a grape appearance. Mysteries abound in nature, and I will have to do more research to solve this one.
We pass by young Sycamore and Hazel saplings. Sycamore is a quick grower and will eventually reach the canopy. Hazel is a low shrub, but grows well in the woodland shade. The stems of this plant were used for making fences, and were harvested on a seven year cycle.
The edge of the path has a few wildflowers. Broad leaved plantain and daisy add a splash of colour and interest. We reach a small stone bridge that stretches lazily over a stream. Meadow sweet is in flower in a sunny glade, and as it names suggests it has a divine scent. Traditionally it was harvested, and the long stems and flowers hung in houses to help mask bad smells.
Dog rose is another bird or animals sown plant. In early summer the bright pinkish flowers are a magnet for butterflies. The plump red haws ripen in autumn as a winter food and wild creatures. The haws are packed full of goodness, and were gathered during the war years when fresh fruit was in short supply.
With the main nesting season over birds are quiet at this time of the year. We only hear a few woodland birds that sing throughout the year. The harsh “tick tick” calls of a robin echo through the trees, and a wren gives a brief song. These two species have also adapted to our gardens and parks, and are now considered urban birds.
We reach the river Barrow and sunshine. The kids float leaves while we pause for a few minutes. Insects are like drops of water on the river, and I see several fish taking full advantage of nature’s bounty.
We follow the grassy path along by the river bank. I love the sound of water and can walk for hours beside rivers enjoying the wildlife. The fish continue to jump and a Willow warbler starts to sing. These birds are found in gardens, parks and woods that have plenty of trees. They come to Ireland in spring, to feed on the abundant insect life, and return to Africa in late summer.
The first butterfly of the day appears. A Green-veined white flutters along the path. It favours damper habitats, and can be abundant on a sunny day. Greater rosebay willow herb is another damp loving flower, and it stands over a meter tall, with masses of pink flowers. Common hogweed
The real surprise is wild raspberries, and some of the fruits are just ripe. They taste sweet but the birds and animals will quickly devour this seasonal fruit.
We leave the river and head back into the cool woods. A carpet of moss covers the ground and there is a lone Holly tree. Holly needs a male and female tree to produce berries, and they are a firm favourite of birds.
Our last stop is the old Warburton house. It was destroyed by fire and now has been taken over by nature. The house is been slowly digested by the roots of plants, and the countless mouths of insects.
On our way back to the car park, we pass young lovers resting on a bench. Woods hide many natural secrets and a few human liaisons as well. As we pack up the car a flash of blue attracts my attention. A quick look reveals a common blue butterfly and this is a brilliant way to finish of an interesting walk.
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