The relentless rain and head height clouds gave us the perfect excuse to have a lazy morning, but eventually we mobilised and headed to the village of Barr where lots of trails wind through the surrounding forests. With our waterproofs on we left the van behind, the clouds still hung heavily in the air and the drizzle fell constantly with no signs of easing up.
There was an orientation panel with a number of walks marked out and after deciding what we wanted to do and setting off we very quickly realised that none of the coloured way-markers matched the routes on the panel – so we decided to ignore everything we had previously read and just go exploring. We started up the wide forestry track climbing gradually up the hillside, our hoods were up and the rain pattered down on us noisily.
Looking back down the valley the dark tops of the trees poked through the swirling grey soup which surrounded them. To our left a forest stretched far up the hill, the low hanging cloud sitting heavy between the trees. The rain would collect on the foliage, gaining weight until eventually hitting the limit and giving way, cascading to the ground, the noise catching our attention as we passed by. Passing a field of sheep, we evidently piqued their interest as they started running up the hill and along the fence line towards us – as any sane adult would do I baa’d at them to which they very melodiously responded.
A little further along we took a path off the main track which disappeared off into a patch of deciduous woodland. Winding our way through the trees we descended a little way before coming out at a scraggly field. Our path skirted the edge of the field, the muddy/grassy track following a small babbling brook until it cut across our path and a small wooden footbridge allowed us to cross the water. As we rounded the next corner we could see we were about to go back into the trees, they closed in around us with their tops towering above.
Approaching the loose tree line there was a large bank completely covered in the brightest green moss we have ever seen! It was incredibly soft and carpeted the entire area – small saplings and a few small mushrooms were growing through the mossy weave to make themselves visible. Twinkling delicately in the light, the falling rain collected as perfect glassy beads on the top of the mossy bank. After swooning a little we continued around the bend to what is now one of my favourite stretches of footpath… ever!
Small stepping stones, half covered by the surrounding grass, cut a winding staircase up through the small gap in the trees. A gentle stream trickled through the foliage to one side and everything was awash with lush green as the moss grew in abundance on anything that stayed still long enough. It was extremely quiet; the noise of the stream and the occasional audible drop hitting the floor offered a peaceful soundtrack for our walk. The mist, still hanging low, swirled around us giving the entire scene a certain enchantment that is pretty hard to describe – I can only say that I was in awe of the beauty of the place.
Another forestry track cut its way steadily through the trees, as we were chatting away we almost missed the deer as she silently crossed the path ahead of us, disappearing immediately into the darkness of the trunks. The edge of the track was dotted with mushrooms, I can’t resist a little mushroom photography but unfortunately as I knelt down on my elbows to take the pictures I ended up falling forward, getting a little stuck and almost rolling down the muddy bank in front of me! Luckily I managed to steady myself before tumbling down too far but I did have to live with the grubby jacket for the rest of the day!
Our next path was another small meandering track which broke off through a slight gap in the trees (probably a fairly easy one to miss as you amble along the main track!) The bright grassy path disappeared off between a small gap in the trees looking particularly lush and inviting compared to the gravel track we had just been walking on. The lower branches hung low over us as we made our way through and small muddy ponds lay in the ditches edging the path – the surface of the water glinting subtly amongst the gloom of the trunks. As we ambled on, our grassy path grew wider and more light filtered through the tops of the trees.
We traversed the edge of a hill; on one side a tall bank covered in moss and slimy black frilled mushrooms climbed away from us, the tree line started a little further up. On the other side the hill fell away steeply covered in the same forest, the never ending pattern of trunks visible to the very bottom, where a river tumbled its way through the glen. The rain eased as we followed the gradual descent of our grassy walkway and once again we emerged out onto another large forestry track.
These tracks run in fairly straight lines across the forests and our route had been criss-crossing them all day. Spiderwebs stretched between the branches, drops of water suspended on them were glinting in the light and appearing as floating gems, sparkling against the dark foliage behind This particular track would have led us straight back to the van; but instead of ending our walk here we decided to go on one more detour before the day was out.
A small copse of trees decked out with numerous bat boxes led us down to a clearing and out to a footbridge crossing the same river we had been looking down on earlier. Rounding a bend, with the river coursing noisily beside us, we started to make our way up the hillside. Stone steps, set into the ground and partly overgrown with grass, cut a steep incline up the rather exposed front ridge-line of the hill. Twisting a little on the way up it deposited us at a well-positioned bench looking down into the dark tree-clad valley below. Still engulfed in swirling mist, the few white, lichen covered trees which dotted the scene stood out, looking ghostly against their dark companions.
We trudged along a muddy track, our feet slipping a little underfoot until we came to another small bridge. This one crossed over a small gorge in the rocks, the torrent of black water passing hurriedly through the narrow gap in the rocks before tumbling down a fair distance below. After the waterfall we made a slight V-shape, heading almost back on ourselves but on the other side of the gully. The oranges and browns of the bracken covered hillside we had been walking through added a splash of vibrancy to the rather grey day we were having.
As our path approached the next forest we could see it disappear into the blackness of the dense tree-line. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we entered; there was minimal transition, just walking straight from light to dark. It was so dark and quiet, as though no noise or light was penetrating the wall of trees around us; it felt completely separate from the outside world. The clouds which still sat low in the sky veiled the tops of the trees and swirled around the lower branches just above us. Everything was mossy and wet, and gloomy… so gloomy!
We passed by a couple of deciduous trees which were bare and completely covered in pale lichen – looking spectral and white in the darkness. The air was heavy, muffling any noise we made and creating an eerie silence as we made our way along the muddy footpath. Small white mushrooms grew in the darkness, out of the detritus of the forest floor they closely resembled pale dead hands reaching up towards us. It was the darkest, most imposing forest I have ever been into and I bloody loved every second of it!
Twisting and turning in small measures we walked through the trees, the rain had stopped entirely but the heavy drops still hung to the branches and moss that covered our surroundings. Eventually it grew a little lighter as we came out onto our final stretch of forestry track which led us back down to the village and to our beloved van. Back at the van we de-waterproofed and tucked into our lunches (which we had accidentally left behind and were now massively overdue!) All the while chatting about how varied and interesting the day’s walk had been and how we would definitely come and explore this area a little more in the future!