Walk of the week: Muckross Lake & Torc Waterfall, Killarney National Park
Given the hundreds of thousands of sightseers who throng into Killarney National Park every year, it's really remarkable how those wonderful lakes and mountains of Kerry have retained their tranquil beauty, the air of peace and quiet that so attracted Victorian adventurers.
- On a brisk afternoon between winter and spring, I set out through the grounds of Muckross House. The path ran west along a narrowing isthmus between lakes, winding among gnarly old yew trees. Their flaking trunks and dark feathery canopies stood rooted in banks of rock, cloaked in damp moss.
- A gleam of water on my left hand, and suddenly Muckross Lake lay spread out in all its glory, sparkling as if a million diamonds had been strewn there. Lough Leane opened on the right, as big as a sea inlet by comparison, with a ridge of mountains far away on the northern skyline -- Slieve Mish, the backbone of the Dingle Peninsula some 15 miles off.
- Where the two lakes flowed together, I crossed the narrows by a humpy bridge then rounded the west end of Muckross Lake beside reedbeds glowing pale gold in the mid-afternoon sun. Cheerful voices came from the tea garden at Dinis Cottage, where a group of young doctors had just arrived on foot, desperate for tea and flapjacks. Luckily for them, and for me, the little café had just returned to life after its winter closure. I got a pot of tea and a piece of damp, glutinous brack, and sat by the window.
- The view over the lake was curiously blurred. I rubbed my glasses, then the window, trying in vain to get rid of the misty effect. Dozens of signatures, cartoons and bon mots had been scratched by visitors on the panes with diamond rings over the course of two centuries. JD Hogg's signature, dated 1816, was the oldest I could find. I wondered if a rather abrupt 'Wellesley' had been the Duke of Wellington's handiwork. One couldn't help speculating on the vanished signatories. What of 'Lizzie' and 'The Doctor', who enclosed their names in 1856 within the outline of a love-apple? Spooners, honeymooners, or just good friends?
- Walking on east along the south shore of the lake and picturing Lizzie (freckled, pert, inclined to tease) and The Doctor (twinkly, bespectacled, rather older than her), the miles sped by. I was at the foot of the steep zigzag path to Torc Waterfall before I knew it. I climbed quickly against the fading light, looping up then sharply down with the whispery echo of the fall growing nearer. The water sluiced down a dark mossy channel, in creamy skeins as delicate and lacy as a Shetland shawl, turning once before crashing down into a pool in a rainbow mist. A damp breath stole from the fall, a rich scent of wet leaves and moss.
- A young couple sat motionless and silent on the brink of the pool. His arm was round her waist, her hand was on his knee. They were entirely bound up in each other, in the falling water and in the moment. A happy man and woman. I hope Lizzie and The Doctor found such happiness among the Killarney mountains.