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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Adventure in the ancient St. John's Wood

This is a forest I have been eager to visit for a long time. It is known as being here on the banks of Lough Ree in Co. Roscommon for over 7000 years, making it one of the most ancient post ice-age forests in Ireland.

I was hoping to get a peek at some Irish Pines, a scarce tree, and some Elms that had not been affected by the Dutch Elm disease that spread through the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, I saw neither but what we did find was fascinating.

So lets go walking  ...


As with many of these Sunday walks, this year, it had been a misty drizzling morning but the afternoon broke into warm summery sunshine. There was a breeze and this kept potential midges away.

Sadly, only 5 of us together on this walk and only two of us residents of Co. Roscommon, others being from counties Sligo and Leitrim. Indeed I received the usual run of messages about weather concerns and did not think we were doing the walk today. As usual we did the walk and love it :-)

I was expecting a network of narrow muddy paths, after looking at an old map, but instantly found that some of these are now replaced, in part, with these wide gravel paths. Signage is sparse and incomplete so we did miss several interesting things here that signs would have helped us locate

There is also so much here, too much to cover in a day. .


Along the main wide gravelled route there are 10 big signs, tree trunk stumps with big red numbers. I have not been able to find online information to match the numbers or any publication. We guessed what each number may fit too. One thing St. John's Wood is noted for is wild cherry trees, but I discovered I am not great at identifying those. I am surprised I did not take a pic of the numbers either.

Also good to see a lot of coppicing is going on here in these woods, but I did not take any coppice tree pics, which is a bit strange.

There are oaks here, plenty of them but none are very big, which is surprising for such an ancient origin forest.


What is known about St. John's is that it has the densest population of hazel trees compared to any other forest in Ireland


Also it is one of the few forests that still has native wild crab apple trees


At this point we were looking for a charcoal burner's hut ruins which our guide book said is surrounded by elm trees that had not been affected by the 70s and 80s Dutch elm disease outbreak.

There was one unknown tree we debated and could not truly work it out. We wondered if it was a hornbeam. At home I looked at elm pics and it may have been one ... but due to intense wonder I forgot to take pics.

We did not see the charcoal burner's hut, but we did see this strange neat piling of cut branches making large rectangle formations.


After completing the gravel loop we headed off on the path towards Lough Ree beach. At the start of this it looked like the path had been cut to pour more gravel, and now there were Yew trees, small ones, and a delightful log seat beneath one of the yew trees


The path became narrower and muddier. One part went over a bridge and on one side of the bridge was a badger set. Three of the group saw a badger run into this ...


Eventually we could see the path getting closer to the lough shore, but then as the path became narrower it seem to meander away from the shore and eventually there was no path at all.

We doubled back and when close to the shore looked for a shore direction path. Yes there is one, but it needs a marker to show where it is. None of us had ribbons but this bent tree is just before the small path starts.

At the shore it was a 'wow!' moment.

Here's one of the big crannogs, man made islands, near the shore, along with some scene of Lough Ree and some shore line reeds.


Here there was a lot of volcanic rock, we called moonrock, and it was home to many fossils.


Here's the end of another crannog and gives a scene of some of the forest shoreline too


Back at the forest edge, after over 4 km walking we decided to picnic in shelter with seats, and away from possible midges and wind


Bridget had talked about her desire to visit nearby Mote Park Forest sometime so Jonathan Pipe and I visited there for a look around on our way home.

I was largely disappointed with Mote as it seemed to be mainly long straight gravel walks with mainly monoculture sitka spruce plantations beside them.

One delight was getting some pics of a large ancient oak at Mote that has obviously been struck by lightning. A good graphic for my Brighid storytelling for when I explain where the Brighid name comes from and its relationship with Oak.


I look forward to coming back here as soon as I can, maybe not until next year, to have another look for the charcoal burner's cottage ruins, confirm the elm's presence  ... and then some time on the land of the Rindown medieval city ruins that includes ruins of a castle, a couple of churches and a tower, but also has more native woodlands on a peninsula jutting out into the widest section of the Lough Ree.

Do come along with us when we return to here, or go there before with your friends and share your experiences there.
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2 comments :

  1. Definitely want to visit the castle next time. I don't know why but I took hardly any pics in the forest yesterday. I was tkinking after about the size of the trees...for an ancient forest one would have expected some big old trees. A great day out as always.

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  2. There were indeed unique trees that are not seen anywhere very much and I do not know the story of why there were no big trees. I know some untampered ancient forests around Scotland that do not have big trees. It seems that often by large lakes trees are smaller, but there are exceptions. Where I lived on the Isle Of Mull had huge trees but that woas due to being on the south side of a highish mountain. Once the mountain was out of protection the waterside trees diminished in size. Brackloon Forest south of Westport looks similar to St. John's but the oaks are a bit taller and trees fuller, but that is south side of Croagh Patrick ... interesting. Nearby Mote Park did have larger trees but the majority were sitka spruce in rows. I was not impressed with the place on viewing, after being at St. John's.

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