The Dalgan walk

Out of the new car park, beside the football pitch. Nowadays walkers are encouraged not to park near the main building. So what direction do we take? Anti clockwise is the choice of most. Probably because you go downhill on the courses biggest obstacle. But our selection is to proceed through the wood first, years of practice you see. Never change an ould fella.

Annoying if you want a quiet walk, though as you tend to meet everybody else out for the fresh air. All the anti clockwisers who form that majority, singles, couples, families. Most of the time a friendly nod or wink is the password.

So off we go alongside the pitch, the new trees to our left and a view of south Meath, well not exactly facing us but a little bit to our right. As dusk gathers you can see the radio mast flashing, all the way down near Kilcock. This can be the nicest part of the journey, especially on hot days as a cooling blast of air often seems to come in off Tara golf course and hit you quite pleasantly in the face.

People familiar with Dalgan know you can choose a variety of walks, long or short. Some prefer the basic walk in front of the main building. Shorter but you can do it 10 or 20 times if the body so chooses. Some single ladies obviously feel more secure not venturing into the woods and for others the solid footing of the tarmac, especially if children are tagging along, makes the almost square walk in front of the college a very popular one indeed.

But we are in it for the long haul and after maybe 200 yards veer off the tarmac and pass the statue of Our Lady and into the Dalgan woods. Dark and leafy, beech, elder, oak, chestnut, nettle. Just lush green thrown together by God and man. No pattern, but the path dissects this piece of heaven for some quarter of a mile. Other paths cut through the wood alongside the main Dublin road and provide a haven for those interested in greenery, the plant world and wildlife.

Our walk takes us out of the wood as a small gate allows trekers onto a path running parallel with the Garlow Cross-Tara Golf course road. To our right are green fields. So what if a bit of electric wire brings out a bit of the modern age or if the odd cow left over stretches onto the path. Dalgan Park is a priests retreat first and foremost and then a business centred on the farm. The cattle have to be looked after and remember the walk comes free.

Downhill past another set of gates and then another and we find ourselves back in the shade. Older more established trees to our left while a wood planted around 10 years back has grown considerably to our right. The walk takes a right turn, dictated by the river which like the roadway now runs alongside our hike for the next three quarters of a mile.

This is probably many people’s favourite sector. Completely closed in with dense greenery on each side. Even in winter, this feel of being cut off from the outside world exists, so thick is the shrubbery with most wind or inclement weather blocked. A glaze upwards gives an enclosed version of the sky while fishermen often try their ability to catch the perch available in deeper sections of the river.
Further up we encounter the back road out of Dalgan towards Bellinter or Garlow Cross, a four road cross if you like. Some choose to go right and shorten their journey back to base at Dalgan but most give way, cross over and continue the river journey. Only now it is to our right.

Again we are in open country with views in each direction. Tara Hill is now to our back while sneak visions of the Kilcarn-Kilmessan road can be just about visualised. Everywhere we go these yellow signs exist. ‘Enjoy the peace now - but ‘ The new motorway is cutting through the southern portion of Dalgan and while a distance from the main attraction is a major concern for most established walkers.
There is a metal bridge over the river amidst further greenery and another shorter route back to camp. But some 30 yards prior you can further the journey, veer left and climb up a steepish hill. What you are doing is encircling a wood of some recent vintage. A further left brings you to the most southern vicinity of the tour, dismount a few man-made wooden steps and you are right beside Old Man River, the very Boyne itself.

The smaller river which we trotted alongside meets the main waterway about 300 hundred yards further on. The Boyne is really silent at this stage and the sound of torrents only comes to the ear when both join in marriage. And it is the smaller one which produces the most noise, a rocky decline as it enters the Boyne creates an explosive sound, especially after a period of heavy rainfall. This meeting of the waters is another favourite area for visitors and an ideal spot for family picnics. The owners have gone to the extent of introducing some wooden seating in recent times where the walker, with worries on his or her shoulder, can reflect and meditate.

A short rest and onwards and upwards, back to the metal bridge, a left turn and head in the direction of Dowdstown House, which now appears on the horizon. This portion of the journey incorporates a steep hill and it is half way up this obstacle that the writer again reasons why he walks in this clockwise direction.

People have in general a habit of going anti clockwise because of this same slope. Better to run downhill and all that. To hell with the fitness thing. Aren’t some of us there with the best of intentions re exercise, diet etc. only to take the shortest and easiest way possible. Human nature I suppose.
Which brings us to why we usually travel in the clockwise direction. Matter of habit in fact. You see the darkest place in the entire trip is in the earlier stages. If you are going clockwise that is and just after the statue of the Blessed Virgin. We tended to go out late in the evenings and the wife’s directions were to get this part of the route out of the way first and not to go through it later on when dusk was settling down around Dalgan. And then of course, the Dalgan graveyard, so well manicured and crosses erected in meticulous order, runs alongside this section. The way things and habits develop.

Up the hill we go and an interesting plaque on a wall tells us that this modified structure is called the Ha-Ha ditch. Further on we travel through open country again. At the moment the holly trees are red with berries, expect this to change in the coming months, while to our right a sign suggests Beware of the Bull. On approaching Dowdstown House you have a selection of going left or right. You are back on the roadways again and most choose to take the right option. Older residents note that at one stage the main Dublin-Navan road went right by Dowdstown House and the building for long periods was used as a stage coach depot, where patrons and horses stopped off for a rest and used the amenities of the age.

Further on you encounter another four road cross. Going right you head back downhill past some historic church remains, while further down there once was a natural made swimming pool from the waters of the river previously harped upon, remnants still remain. Going back to that four road crossing, a left turn brings you into the farmyard which is by all interests and purposes out of bounds for the walker.

So it is back up to Dalgan of the grey stone, green lawns and much recent renovation. A hospital has been added to the south wing of the building and although close by are handball courts and further down some eye catching vegetable gardens, it is the wish of those running Dalgan that the walkers avoid this section. Most of the sick priests and nuns are old and value the peace and quiet.

But the walk is not over as the most popular section of Dalgan is the u shaped route in perfect roadstone in front of the main building. About three quarters of a mile in length, this walk attracts the young families and manys the kid who learned how to ride a tricycle and took his first nervous yards on a larger bicycle, who will look back on Dalgan with pride. Others on this shorter journey will include older and slower walkers or the priests domiciled nearby and deep in prayer.

Good fresh air in abundance though. And watch out for the squirrels or the large chestnuts which fall in the autumn from a cluster of trees in the right hand corner as you look out from the main building. Terrific stuff, great views, total tranquillity if you choose, nature at its best, children at play, memories of ‘86, ‘87, ‘88, ‘90, ‘91, ‘96,’ 99, and 2001. And hey, its all for free.

Taken from Royal County
December 2004