Glena Cottage has long held a mystic and mysterious charm for those who visited it. For those who have not been there, its mystique is even more alluring. Its remote setting and chequered history has made it even more interesting over the years. The cottage has been in ruins for almost a century and the surrounding woodlands are slowly engulfing it. Were it not for its lakeshore location, the ruins may have been smothered entirely by now. Many visit Glena by boat but far less make the trek on foot – perhaps understandably as it is not the easiest of journeys. It is a bit of an adventure to get there, but it is one of the most rewarding hikes you will find in Killarney National Park.
The small green patch in front of the ruins of Glena Cottage runs down to the lake shore. Its visibility has kept it alive in the minds of many that venture on to the lake and ramble along the shores of Ross Island on the far side of the lake. That green patch of grass on the faraway shore was always enticing. Tales of opulent entertainment during its heyday were matched by equally tall tales from more recent years involving escapades by teenagers on warm summer nights. These daring adventures were marred by two constant menaces – A lot of effort to row out there in a boat and an unceasing battle with the local midge population once dry land was reached! And so, Glena remains elusive to many. With a little bit of effort, a lot of perseverance and a good pair of boots, you can find your way to the lost ruins of Glena.
How do I get there?
This hike concentrates on approaching Glena Cottage from the Dinis area of Killarney National Park. It is also possible to access it from Tomies Wood or via boat from Muckross House or Ross Castle. The starting point for this hike is the Old Weir Bridge near Dinis Cottage.
There are several ways to get to the Old Weir Bridge – by boat, on foot, on a bicycle or a combination of some of these. The nearest car parking spot on the main N71 Killarney to Kenmare road is a distance of about 1.5km away. From here, it is about a 20-25 minute walk to the Old Weir Bridge.
The main car park at Muckross House & Gardens is approximately 5km away via the Muckross and Dinis trail that skirts around Muckross Lake. The start of the trail to the Bridge is marked by a grey sign a few hundred metres east of Dinis Cottage (on the path from the N71 car park). Beware that the start of the trail can often be flooded during the winter or after some heavy rain when the lake is high. The bridge is just a few hundred metres from Dinis Cottage along this trail.
This hike is a ‘There and Back Again’ adventure so you will be arriving back at Dinis Cottage again at the end of the trek. Make sure to leave enough time to return to the car park at the N71 or Muckross House.
The Start of the Glena Adventure
There are many navigation challenges on this hike and knowing where to start is the first one you will encounter! This may take a few attempts before you get it right so ensure you have plenty of contingency time for retracing your steps along the way.
Once you arrive at the Old Weir Bridge, cross over the bridge with the Upper Lake to your left and the Meeting of the Waters (& Dinis Cottage) to your right. As you reach the other side of the bridge, follow the path to the right. After you turn right, the start of the hike is immediately to your left through a barely discernible gap in the gorse. It is hard to spot but keep looking around the area and you will eventually find it. Push your way through the gorse and ferns and the ground opens out to a raised trail on a spur above the lake and the ‘back channel’ to Lough Leane.
Tip: When trying to locate the starting point near the Old Weir Bridge, remember it is on slightly raised ground. If you are down at the level of the lake water, you are not on the right track. Return to the Bridge and you will find the elusive starting point less than 20 metres from there.
This is not the only way to get to Glena from the Old Weir Bridge but it is certainly the easier way. There are other tracks closer to the lakeshore on lower ground but these are much more difficult and sometimes impassable after recent rainfall.
|Route||Dinis to Glena Cottage|
|Distance||3km return (Start/Finish at Old Weir Bridge) Additional 3km return from Dinis Cottage to car park on N71|
|Accessibility||Marshland, thick forests, river crossing. Full hiking gear required|
|Ground||Tracks in parts only, No trail for marshland section, Rough path in woodland|
|Elevation||Flat throughout, slight inclines while climbing/descending outcrops|
|Environment||Open country, marshland, Native woodland, lakeshore|
|Conditions||Exposed, rugged, sheltered within woods, exposed at lakeshore, isolated|
|Family/Kids||Not suitable for young children|
|Dogs/Pets||Dogs may struggle in marshland, keep on leash and be prepared to carry them!|
|Sights/Attractions/Features||Woodland, Lake & Mountain views, wildlife, Ruins, Wilderness|
|Options||Extend to Muckross via boat. Stop off at Rosie’s Beach. End at Muckross Traditional Farms|
|Facilities||Toilets/Restaurant/Coffee Shop at Muckross House. Boat Trips from Dundag Boat House|
|Availability||Open All Year. Note: the trail can be flooded at many times of the year|
Always take note of your departure time so that if you do make a few wrong turns, allow yourself enough time to make it back to the relative civilisation of Dinis Cottage. For most of the hike, there is good mobile phone coverage but do not rely on this alone for your navigation. A quality map and a good sense of direction will get you there safely and back. At the start of the hike, there is an easy-to-follow trail to guide you along the way. The trail soon brings you in to the wilderness with only the sounds of the rapids at the Old Weir to remind you of your origins.
At the outset of the hike, take a moment to turn around and get your bearings on the mountains behind you. Taking the corner of Torc mountain as a marker can come in handy on the return journey through the soggy marshes.
With the ground conditions varying from rough track to sodden marshland, it is essential to have the right footwear and hiking gear for this trail. A walking pole/stick can be useful for gauging the depth of water at certain sections. Your feet may well get wet on this hike so lace up those boots well!
Trying to find a track to follow is a challenge in itself. Every now and then you see a bit of grass trampled on and what looks like a track. A few metres on, doubt sets in when you suspect that it is an animal trail. When the only other marks in the mud are hoof prints, it’s time to lift the head up and try to find the track again! This trail hopping can be both delightful and disconcerting at the same time but persevere, it’s worth it in the end.
O’Sullivan’s Punch Bowl
The track leads on and the ground slowly descends in to what is known as O’Sullivan’s Punch Bowl. Bound on all sides by rising ground, mountain slopes and Lough Leane, the ground is damp all year round. In winter and after heavy rains, the rising lake water can saturate the area so proceed with caution.
Finding a trail is a constant challenge so don’t worry too much if you’re not on an actual track. It is a nice feeling when you find it again! There are some white tape / high visibility markers on some trees and bushes along the way to help guide you along. Although these are a welcome sight as you trudge along, please do not rely on these as they can be quite difficult to spot. There are several ways to make your way across the punchbowl so don’t despair if you don’t see all the markers.
A glance at the watch will tell you that it’s less than 30 minutes since you left Dinis Cottage. The hum of the outboard motors on the passing boats confirms it. The scene all around tells a different story. Everywhere you look is wilderness. There is no discernible path, no birdsong, no sound other than that of your footsteps. Just open marshland surrounded by hills, lake and open sky.
Your main goal is to head towards the cluster of rhododendron between the foothills of the mountain and the lakeshore. That sounds straightforward, right? The soggy ground on the way makes things a bit more complex. Choose your footing carefully when traversing the marshes.
Dark Woods of Glena
There are a couple of entrance points into the rhododendron covered area at the other side of the marsh. Rhododendron are never a welcome site in Killarney National Park. However, after 30 minutes of marshland and bog hopping from clump to clump, the prospect of solid ground is an enticing one.
It is a relief to enter the dark rhododendron woods after the drudgery of the marsh. Conditions underfoot improve but a new challenge awaits. A false sense of security comes upon you as initially there is a nice steady path through the woods. Before long the path is swallowed up by the rhododendron and branches impede the way in many parts. Navigation is not too difficult but it can be disorientating in places under the thick canopy. Don’t be surprised to find yourself taking a wrong turn and retracting your steps in here.
Tip: Watch out for the sawn-off branches in the woods – stay close to these to guide you along the trail.
Ground conditions are tricky, requiring some fancy footwork in parts. At the wetter and more boggy sections, loosely gathered set of logs have been laid to aid your progress. You may have to crouch down to hobbit height to make your way through the murky rhododendron that smother the trail. A stream must be crossed to join the path that leads to the cottage. Beware! this is more than a simple stepping stone crossing. It requires a bit of branch grasping and careful footwork on the mossy rocks in the river bed.
After crossing the stream, the going becomes much easier and the trail opens out to a proper path at last. The remains of old stone walls caked in decades of moss signal your arrival at the boundaries of the old estate at Glena. On the final section of the path before reaching Glena Cottage, the path has been overtaken by rhododendron on all sides. An archway of branches lies above your head and one suspects that it is only the presence of hikers that is keeping the rhododendron at bay.
Before you know it, the path rounds a corner to meet the remains of the old ballroom or banqueting hall at the rear of Glena Cottage. Beyond the ballroom, you begin to emerge from the darkness of the rhododendron into to the bright light of Glena Bay. The arrival to Glena Cottage from the woods is a lovely sensation. A set of large moss covered steps leads down from the Ballroom to the ruins of the main cottage in the green below. The ruins give some sense of the scale of the Cottage in its heyday. In many of the old photographs, Glena appears as a quaint thatched cottage. Stand beside the ruins of these thick walls that tower above you and ‘Cottage’ seems like a misleading title for this property.
Glena Cottage dates from the early 19th century and was used by Lord and Lady Kenmare for accommodating visitors. The ballroom to the rear of the cottage provided on-site entertainment. Among the more famous visitors to Glena was Queen Victoria who had lunch here in 1861. Glena Cottage and the nearby ballroom were destroyed by fire in 1920 and have remained in ruins ever since. For more details on the history, check out this excellent post about Glena by David Hicks on his blog.
Today the ruins are hemmed in on all sides by nature. The woods have encroached from behind and one side, while the rock face of the slopes of the mountain still shelter the ruins. The visitors arriving by boat for the last century have kept the grass low to the front of the cottage.
Even on a damp and dreary day, there is a magical quality to Glena. Some find the place eerie as the ruins are a reminder of a grisly end to a majestic residence. Others find it a place of great peace and tranquillity. What is not disputed is that the location is one of outstanding natural beauty. Glena bay is nestled away in the south-western tip of Lough Leane. Shelter is provided by the high ground all round and there is a view that stretches out across the lake and beyond.
Take some time to enjoy the beautiful surrounds and the wonderful views across Lough Leane from the green area to the front of the ruins. The silence is golden.
You will see that a new trail continues through the rhododendron near the lakeshore. This trail eventually rises up the side of Glena mountain and it is possible to join the waymarked trail in Tomies Wood from here. This section of the trail is not covered here but beware that this trail is also a very challenging hike. For now, it is enough of a challenge to retrace your steps through the woods and the marshes to the starting point!
The Lure of Glena
Glena Cottage was always marked out as a place for peace and relaxation. Although the cottage itself now lies in ruins, the location retains the beautiful serenity that no doubt attracted people there in the first place. There is a considerable effort required to access Glena over land and not all of it is on what could be defined as ‘terra firma’. However, once you stumble out of the dark to the cottage ruins, the scrambling through the woods and the plodding through the marshes all seems worthwhile.
As a hike, this one has a bit of everything – wilderness, dense woods and challenging navigation. However, it is not to be taken on lightly and be prepared to get your feet wet at some point en route.
As an experience, it’s hard to beat the trip to Glena. Less than 10 minutes from the Old Weir Bridge you are in the wilds of Killarney National Park on a true adventure. The lure of Glena continues to remain strong.