Into the Forest
The Old Long Hill Road rises from the glittering speed of the N11 motorway, past almost suburban gardens of flowering trees, into the mountain wilderness of Calary Bog. Dominated on one side by the apparently sheer quartzite cone of the Sugarloaf Mountain and on the other by the deceptively rounded dome of Djouce Mountain, it is a route beloved of cyclists. They creep up it in their lowest gear in order to feel the exhilarating rush of air as they speed back down. I prefer to have my view framed by a pair of warm, furry ears – to go up it on horseback.
Country Cottage Stables can be found as you rise up the hill, looking straight across at an unrivalled view of Great Sugarloaf. It is possible to ride out from here on one of their well-schooled, sensible responsive cobs and horses. The riders go out in small groups, led by Kieran, the proprietor, and other skilled and experienced riders, to ensure safety.
Just a kilometre from the stables is an entrance to Powerscourt Woods, a beautiful mixed forest with spectacular views across the valley to the dramatic drop of Powerscourt waterfall. You can leave the road here and ride on the more friendly surface of unpaved forest roads. The sound of the hooves is suddenly muffled and birdsong replaces the hum of traffic. The resinous smell of pine and spruce mingles with the oddly tropical coconut scent of gorse flowers.
The mix of conifers and deciduous trees means that the views in the forest, both close at hand and into the distance, are constantly changing. In early spring, the birch twigs begin to change to a rich maroon. The ancient oaks across the valley, clinging to the steep slopes on either side of the waterfall, are a blur of smoky purple, hazed over with grey-green of lichen. The buds on the beech trees seem to vibrate with life. Later in spring, the oaks are muffled in a heavy clustering of golden-green; new needles bud out in spiral patterns on the larch branches. At this time of rich freshness, the brown and bronze and russet of autumn leaves and the purple of ling and heather are not even a memory. It is impossible to call them to mind with any accuracy.
The horses trot on, threading through the steep narrow passages between the trees. A broad, level path provides the opportunity for a canter. A steep descent and a short scramble brings us down to the rectangular space of reeds that used to be a pond that supplied the water supply for Bray. A further network of paths, with new views of the waterfall and tantalising glimpses of the other side of the valley brings us back to our starting point and the steep descent on the road, back to the stables.
This is one of the wonderful rides within my capability as an elderly, novice-standard rider. Many more routes are available, some faster and more challenging. All are exhilarating and greatly enhanced by being framed with horses’ ears.