Off season adventure and beauty in the Comeragh Mountains, Ireland
Off season camping in Ireland
It’s probably a surprise to most people that camping in Ireland is actually a lovely experience during the off season. In spring and autumn, there are no midges (tiny biting insects) and no high season crowds to contend with. Often, the weather is pleasantly warm, especially in May and September. The flights to Ireland are also much cheaper and you can hire a car for a lot less than what it would cost during the summer months.
Why go camping in the Comeragh Mountains?
The Comeragh Mountains are a hidden gem in County Waterford with some of the most dramatic scenery to be found in Ireland. I’d come across a photo online of a photographer standing above a huge glacial lake at sunrise and it slapped me in the face it was so beautiful. Once I shared it with Neil, we decided that this would be our next adventure. On our first trip there we picked a random sunny weekend in May and loaded the car up with our tent and gear and headed for a campsite as close as possible to the mountains. We’d found it online through a hill walking site and it came highly recommended.
Comeragh Mountains campsite
Powers the Pot campsite is actually in County Tipperary but is right on the border with County Waterford so you have the best of both worlds. We didn’t want to wild camp straight away as we knew we’d be arriving late in the evening and just wanted the peace of mind of a guaranteed pitch. We drove through the lovely town of Clonmel (only 6km to the campsite) and picked up bits and pieces we needed, then drove up and up into the mountains. Turning into the driveway, Kevin the dog was the first to greet us and we were best pals for the weekend! The campsite spread down from the traditional thatched country home with views of the valley below. Niall, the owner, showed us everything, free hot showers, kitchen, laundry and a tiny turf-fired bar on site for sampling wine he imports from all over the world. We were made up and pitched our tent at the bottom of the field near the shade of a tree. Not that it was super hot but we knew the tent would heat up in the morning sun and we’re not early risers! After settling in, we went for a drive up to the highest point a car can take you and the views were stunning for sunset. Niall recommended we first go and see the Nire Valley the following day as it has lovely walks to some of the lakes in the Comeraghs, rather than tackle the big main attraction, Coumshingaun Lough, straight away. We were delighted with his advice as it turns out the Coumshingaun hike is tough enough (for us anyway) and we needed to work up to it.
Skinny dipping in the off season
The Nire Valley walk turned out to be spectacular. The drive itself to the trailhead wound through lush woodland and over old stone bridges. It's a beautiful drive and if you find yourself in this part of the world, go for it. When we got to the car park we found a handy information post with a map of the four or five trails available from there. We wanted to get up to the lakes (The Spillogues) as Niall had highly recommended that particular walk, so we set off. We were glad of our hiking boots as it got very mucky half way up and following the sheep fence, the ascent started to get steeper. The sun was blazing in the sky for the two hours it took us to get up to the lakes so, when we finally reached the water, we stripped off and went for a skinny dip. One word only for this - GLORIOUS! Even in spring time! There was no one around on the trail or at the lakes and we spent the afternoon skinny dipping and soaking in the scenery. The view from up there makes for some great selfie opportunities!
It is possible to continue further up that particular trail but we were done and extremely happy with our first day in the Comeraghs. Refreshed and invigorated by the water we ambled our way back to the car. That evening we cooked a little bbq overlooking one of the valleys and returned to the campsite to yap til the wee hours with Niall about life, sheep, wine and all sorts. He’s a sound man and has loads of stories to tell - a great host altogether. As it was only 2 nights we had to spend, we packed up next morning and drove around to the other side of the Comeraghs to find the trail up to Coumshingaun Lough.
Our second trip to the Comeraghs, in slightly hotter weather, found us back in the same spot purely for the swimming and Neil brought his drone this time. He nearly lost it though as the local peregrine falcons took a fancy to it mid-air, swooping and diving at it. Luckily, Neil acted quick and dropped it down out of reach but thankfully not before he got some stunning footage of the whole area. This video is a selection of the best bits from our two trips here.
The essentials for hiking
We felt a bit daunted by the sheer size of the mountains on the other side of the Spillogues but we were too excited to let our lack of fitness put us off! We were well prepared in fairness though. The sun was shining so we thought we might as well see if we can have a swim before our picnic. Oh yes, we planned the works up there - cheese and scallion sandwiches with crisps (chips) and club orange (Ireland’s one and only fizzy orange drink)! I carried the best picnic bag ever invented (a Lidl purchase complete with tiny cheese knife and chopping board - I’m a sucker for that stuff)! Neil had all his camera gear and the towels and togs.
Hiking to Coumshingaun Lough
There were quite a few cars in the car park at the head of the trail as it was a sunny Sunday. We kind of found, let’s say, an alternative route up through the forest (we just went off the trail by mistake!) and started the steep ascent up the mountain. The further up we climbed, the better the view but also the hotter we got. The thoughts of that cold lake kept us going. We kept coming to mini summits thinking “this is it” and then another hill rose behind. When we finally climbed over the last little ridge we were presented with a breathtaking vista of the lake backed by the towering cliffs of the coum. We found out after, that coum is the Gaelic word for corrie and it’s one of the best examples of a corrie lake in Europe. It is a jaw-dropping sight to behold and apparently the depth of the lake is still debated. It’s seemingly infinite blackness conjures up images from Gandalf’s plummet with the Balrog in Lord of the Rings.
Swimming in Coumshingaun Lake
We skirted the shore of the lake and found a secluded spot between huge boulders, stripped off and jumped in. The sun was warm on our backs as we swam and the crystal clear water soothed our aching feet. When you’re lucky with the weather in Ireland it can sometimes feel like you’ve found paradise. A few more people started to appear at the lake and soon they were dunking themselves too - we might have made it look very inviting! One guy swam all the way to the back of the lake where there’s a beautiful waterfall gushing down from the top of the natural amphitheatre. Neither of us are strong swimmers so we didn’t even consider trying to follow him. Fair play to him though, it was a serious swim to the far side and would have been much colder than where we were.
Off season weather in Ireland can be changeable!
We sat for an hour or two munching on our picnic when all of a sudden heavy clouds rolled in and the weather was about to drastically change. We had to get dressed super quick and got ourselves and our gear up to some overhanging rocks to shelter from the rain. It even got colder, it was hard to believe we’d been swimming and sunbathing moments before. We were glad we hadn’t attempted the hike to the summit because the people who we could see earlier reaching the ridge, completely vanished in the clouds. I think we’ll attempt it someday but we need to brave up to it, it’s a bigger climb than we anticipated. The rain stayed unfortunately so we made our way back down and changed our clothes in the car. Even though the rain came, it didn’t dampen our spirits. We had heard about Mahon Falls which were very close by so we headed there next before taking the M9 home. We got to the car park for the Falls and all of a sudden our adventures that day hit us like a ton of bricks! Absolutely wrecked from our hike and swim, we made it as far as a sloping rock about 500 meters away from the end of the walk and looking at it, I just had to lie down!
Concluding I was too wrecked for any more than the walk back to the car, we plodded slowly and then had a tiny power nap in the back seats before driving home. We were thrilled with our spring camping adventure in the Comeragh Mountains.
Off season travel should definitely be considered when planning a trip to Ireland. If you’d like to know more you should read all about walking among the spring wildflowers in Burren National Park, discover why Ireland’s northwest is best for off season travel and why autumn is the best time of year to visit Ireland’s Ancient Sites.
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