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12 O’Clocks Hills reopen popular walking trails

AFTER a 50-day shut-down, hill-walkers have been able to return to one of the county’s premier amenities at the 12 O’Clock Hills.

The facility was closed in March to help with efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19, even before official public health guidelines kicked in. Last Monday, the operators welcomed walkers living within five kilometres of the facility and issued new guidelines to ensure social distancing.

Chairperson of the 12 O’Clock Hills committee, Patsy Neville said the co-operation of the public had been greatly appreciated during the lock-down. “We had a tremendous response,” he said. “For once, we were delighted that people stayed away. We’re delighted now to welcome people back. Once we announced the re-opening, we had 7,000 views on our social media, so there is a huge demand to get back hill-walking.”

Mr Neville also advised that those intending to use the facility would take a little extra time to make themselves aware of new guidelines. “It’s great that people are able to get back on the Hills,” he said. “The thing we notice, though, is that some people might be unfamiliar with the trails and they’re inclined to wander a bit and mightn’t realise that these are loops, so there should be no doubling-back. In the interests of social distancing, we are advising people to take a bit of time before they start out to look at the guidelines. Our trails, Red and Blue, are looped walks and only marked in one direction for both Belvoir and Snaty, so [there’s] no turning back against other walkers to return to your start point.”

Mr Neville also advised that restrictions are in operation for those using the Belvoir car park. This means that when walkers, using that car park, return from the hills, they must take a left back into the forest, after passing the Buddhist Centre, to get back to their cars. In accordance with public health guidelines, walkers not living in the same house must comply with the minimum 2m social distancing rule at parking and along the trails.

“People are mad to get out and to get back on the hills after the lock-down,” Mr Neville said. “We are very pleased to have secured permission from Coillte to extend our trails and work will begin on that in the coming weeks. People will be able to enjoy longer walks on the hills and that’s a great development. The project committee have recently been given permission from Coillte to develop a third loop walk of 12.5km. The new route is in the townland of Ballyvourgal and takes in an extra hill, known as Locavara, with panoramic views of the Shannon Estuary, Foynes and Ballycullen Castle. It will exit the current trails at the restored Crag Bridge and follow the Famine Road for a distance before winding up Locavara hill. From here, it will pick up Coillte-generated roads before passing the Oatfield Radio Mast and merging again with the existing trails to take in the 12 O’Clock Hills. Work on this new development is expected to get under way in June and be in operation by July. Our thanks to Coillte for facilitating this additional looped walk. Coillte were also very generous in allowing us to develop a Fairland Facility back in November, along the current trails near the area known as the Stepping Stones. We gratefully acknowledge funding for this from St Francis Credit Union and we now thank Clare County Council for their assistance with material to hard cored the very muddy 500m trail section to this facility to now cater for family buggies.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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