WALK FOR IRELAND

WALK FOR IRELAND

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Walking has become increasingly popular as the recession digs in and we all look for free activities. There are many walks around Ireland that are spectacular and fill your lungs with enough fresh air to make you high on oxygen. But if you want a decent challenge, then check this out.

The County Tops Walks are considered an interesting selection of walks for those who like a pace that is off the beaten track. Paul O’Connor from the online magazine Walking and Hiking in Ireland reports.

The five county top walks are:

Number 1: Slieve Foye, County Louth

Number 2: Cupidstown Hill, County Kildare

Number 3: Sawel, Counties Derry and Tyrone

Number 4: Corn Hill, County Longford

Number 5: Knockmealdown, County Waterford

 

SLIEVE FOYE, COUNTY LOUTH

View from Golyin Pass

The County Tops afford you not only the opportunity of visiting the four corners of Ireland but also give you the chance to take a step off the beaten track and visit some of the lesser known mountains and hills that the country has to offer. Indeed, each of the tops has a character all of its own and is surrounded by folklore and legend. Most understandably assume that there are 32 County Tops, one for each county in Ireland but it’s an incorrect assumption with the actual number being 26 due to the fact that a number of counties share a top. For example, the summit of Galtymore is shared between Tipperary and Limerick while Arderin in the Slieve Blooms represents the highest point of counties Laois and Offaly. Being from the wee county, I choose Slieve Foye in the Cooley Mountains for the first article in the series. The Cooley Mountains and Slieve Foye are steeped in Irish folklore with the mountain said to resemble the resting place of Fionn McCumhaill. Locals will tell you that the shape of his head can be seen in the mountain. Foye provides a spectactular backdrop to the medieval coastal town of Carlingford, one of Ireland’s best kept secrets. The town sits on one side of Carlingford Lough with the magnificent Mountains of Mourne facing it on the other and its little wonder that the area is considered by many to be one of the most scenic in Ireland. Carlingford itself is the perfect spot for a weekend away with seemingly as many pubs and restaurants as houses! It also has a rich history spanning several centuries which can be seen in the 13th century King John’s Castle as well as the 15th century Mint and 16th century Taaffe’s Castle.

Getting There
Carlingford is easily reached from Dublin and is clearly signposted from the M1 motorway north of Dundalk.

The Route
Start off from the carpark at the Tourist Information Office close to the pier and follow the waymarks of the Tain Way through the town which leads past a church and up a laneway until you reach the open hillside. From here, a well maintained track leads up to The Golyin Pass, the crest of the ridge which once served as a trading route. To the left is the minor summit of Barnavave while the Tain Way continues straight on down the other side of the ridge. To reach the summit of Foye, we need to swing right and follow the ridge on up the mountain. Aim for the obvious rocky gap then veer slightly right climbing another 300 metres uphill to the summit which is adorned by a trig point.

The view from the summit of Slieve Foye is quite simply stunning on a clear day. On my visit, Carlingford Lough glistened below while tiny sailboats criss-crossed the waters beneath the impressive slopes of the Mourne Mountains. The view leads out the Lough to the Irish Sea where Greenore Point reaches out towards Greencastle on the other side. On the other side of the mountain, the highest point in County Armagh, Slieve Gullion, is visible while the Hill of Howth can be seen to the South.

From the summit, you have the choice of continuing on north-west along the ridge which is on unmarked open ground for just over a kilometre until you reach an obvious point at which you turn right down towards the forest from which a road leads back down to the village. It should be noted that the descent down towards the forest is very steep and extremely slippy in places. The other option is to retrace your steps back down the ridge and back to Carlingford.

Conclusion
A superb ‘wee mountain’, it is superior to many others of far greater height. Foye provides a perfect walk for young children and the views from the summit across to the Mournes are quite simply stunning. Not a mountain that gets a mention in the walking guides but it’s an ideal shorter walk for the winter days and of course, a great way to bag a county top!

County Top Rating: 7.5/10

Useful Information
Height: 589 metres
OS Map: 29
Nearest Pub: Take your pick, Carlingford is full of them! We popped into
P.J’s, an ‘Irish pub of distinction’ who offer a fine pint of Guinness and decent pub-grub to boot.

CUPIDSTOWN HILL, COUNTY KILDARE

Beside the huge Trig Pillar

I think it’s fair to say that whatever County Kildare might be famous for, it’s certainly not its hills. Take a drive out by the Curragh any morning and  you’ll more than likely spy numerous horses out on their gallops and it is for these equine connections that the county is probably best known. With this in mind, it’s probably understandable that the Kildare Tourism board failed to provide an answer to my email enquiring as to the highest point in the county. I can’t imagine they get many people visiting the county to walk its hills and presumably my enquiry was quickly marked ‘extremely ridiculous’ and dispatched into the nearest rubbish bin. After a bit of online research, I eventually found that the place I needed to visit was the  unusually named Cupidstown Hill, standing at a lofty 379 metres close to the sleepy village of Kilteel which itself can lay claim to be Kildare’s highest  village. The village boasts an early thirteenth century castle built by Maurice Fitzgerald for the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem which today is a designated National Monument.

Getting There
Kilteel seems to be something of a forgotten village, nestled in the middle of two of the busiest roads in the country, the Naas dual carriageway to one  side and the N81 on the other. Kilteel can be reached from the Naas dual carriageway by exiting at junction 7 after which the village is signposted. From Kilteel itself, you can reach Cupidstown Hill by taking the first left after the church (when coming from Dublin direction). Keep left at the y-junction and drive on up the narrow potholed road until you come to a gate on the left hand side which gives way to a track through a wooded area. There is space to park here.

The Route
It very quickly becomes apparent as to why Cupidstown Hill won’t be appearing on any of the Kildare Tourism Board’s advertising literature. On my visit, the area inside the gate was doing a fine job as passing as a dump, the most noticeable discarded item being a large body-sized  bag which I was very relieved to hear jangle when I nervously kicked it. The hill itself is overlooked by the Wicklow and Dublin mountains with a cloud-covered Kippure and Seefingan seemingly sneering down at Kildare’s summit.

So onto the route itself…for starters you can put your map and compass away for this one! Finding the parking spot is by far the trickiest part of this route and after that, it’s just a matter of walking 500 metres or so along the eerie trail before rounding a corner to reach a second gate which leads to the ‘summit’ area. The summit area is predictably disappointing with its most noticeable feature being a small communications tower and its associated service building which, in comparison to the large-scale buildings atop places like Kippure, Mount Leinster and Clermont Carn, looked more like the famous caravan from Father Ted.

The one saving grace of the summit was the huge trig pillar on the far side of a bedraggled fence which hinted at wider views prior to the forestry plantation which now blocks off the landscape in two directions. It is not known if Cupidstown Hill has any links with romance but its neighbouring hill, Cromwellstown Hill, has a name to send a shiver down the spine and suggests a bloody past.

Conclusion

What can I say? Simply not worth visiting unless you are ticking off County Tops. Not helped by the plantation of trees or the wholesale dumping of rubbish by the roadside. If nothing else, it’ll provide you with a trivia question for the pub that you can be pretty sure none of your friends can answer. You can also be pretty sure your friends will think you have completely lost your marbles when they discover you’ve gone out of your way to visit Cupidstown Hill. The hill can be combined with a visit to Dublin’s highest point, Kippure, which is only a short drive away. Indeed for those looking to go on a splurge of County Tops, it would be possible to pack Lugnaquilla, the highest point in Wicklow,  into a day as well.

County Top Rating: 1.5/10 (1 for the comedic father ted caravan and .5 for the impressive trig pillar)

Useful Information
Height: 379 metres
Mapsheet: You really don’t need one!
Nearest Pub: The Kilteel Inn

SAWEL, COUNTIES DERRY AND TYRONE

It would be something of an understatement to say that the weather forecast hadn’t been good. Strong to gale-force winds and heavy showers on Friday night leading into Saturday morning was what the friendly weather man had said after the 9 o’clock news. Unperturbed, I got to bed at a reasonable hour and set my alarm for 5:15. Not very long afterwards, I was cursing my stupidity as I done my best to ignore the wind that was very noticeably buffeting my car as I drove along the Carrickmacross bypass. Arriving in Omagh, the heavens opened and the rain came down so heavily that I missed the turn off for Plumbridge and had to backtrack.

Why oh why had I not listened to the nice friendly weather man? The Sperrins were an area I had not previously visited so the chance to tick off two more County Tops presented the perfect excuse for doing so. They form one of the largest upland areas in the whole of Ireland. Sawel Mountain is the highest peak in the Sperrins and it represents the highest point in Counties Tyrone and Derry. Driving from Plumbridge, a marvelous vista of the Sperrins opened up ahead of me – in fact, everything looked superb apart from the heavy scattering of freshly dislodged leaves scurrying around in front of me on the road.

Getting There
From Omagh, head for Plumbridge and then onto the small village (more a townland) of Sperrin. From Sperrin, take the mountain road for Park. The road gives great views over to the upper reaches of Sawel. Cross 2 cattle grids and there is space to park at a layby to the right immediately after the second grid.

 The Route
From the parking spot, the route up to the top of Sawel couldn’t be simpler as a fence provides a sure guide to within a short walk of the summit. The lower sections of the mountain are boggy with a number of large peat hags to be encountered. Luckily for me, the climb up the East spur meant that I was protected from the winds which were coming across from the North-West and as I walked, the sun rose up above the valley behind me throwing up a hazy mist as it heated the rain-sodden ground.

It was only when I got to within 100 metres of the summit that I heard the very unnerving noise of the wind howling and whistling over the crest of Derry’s highpoint. The wind was coming square on from the direction of Dart, a mountain which I was considering visiting but quickly decided to leave for another day. The summit of Sawel consists of a raised mound of rocks topped by a trig pillar. A fence runs to the south of the summit marking the county border with Tyrone and a spur runs off the fence running in a Northerly direction. On the other side of this section of the fence were a disheveled looking group of sheep desperately huddled at one end of a large peat hag in a vain effort to avoid the worst of the winds. The sheep seemed to look at me jealously knowing that I could gain shelter by heading back down the east side of the mountain from which they were denied access by the fence – their options were limited to staying put and sitting out the gale or heading back towards the Dart running the high risk of having the wool blown clean off their backs!

I made my way across to the trig point and clambered up the mound of rocks punching the air in delight at another County Top reached. I was quickly evicted from the top of Derry as a gust of wind nudged me in the back sending me into a semi-controlled fall off the mound.

Prior to visiting Sawel, I had read that the highest point in Tyrone was Mullaghclogha (I believe this to be the highest peak, there is a subtle difference). I had also read that the County top is shared with county Derry, the hypothesis being that the county border is marked by the trig pillar sitting at the top of Sawel. After some investigation, I had found that Tyrone like Monaghan, Roscommon and Leitrim, has its highest point on the slopes of a mountain that summits in another County. For Tyrone, the highest point is on the South slope of Sawel and to quote the very helpful Strabane District Council Countryside Officer, “Sawel’s highest point is actually just in Co. Derry but the highest point in Tyrone is only 30 or 40 metres away from the trig point. If you cross the fence to the south of the trig point, you will be standing on the highest point in Tyrone.”

Bearing this in mind, I took a southerly bearing from the trig pillar and walked down to the fence before locating the highest point and stepping across onto the top of County Tyrone. I found myself at a rather windswept and very uninspiring point, one which bore no cairn or trig point. In fact, it was a point which bore nothing to suggest the importance of this particular piece of land. Being far too lazy and wind-battered to construct a cairn for future explorers to sit and marvel at, I propped the camera up on a tuft of grass and took a couple of shots of myself on top of Tyrone before retracing my steps back down to the parking spot.

Conclusion
A very pleasant walk despite the gale-force conditions. Sawel has an advantage over some of the more isolated county tops in that it can be combined with other mountains in the area to make up a decent day’s walking. The fence from the road also makes it a fairly straightforward and quick top to bag should time be restricted. On the day I visited Sawel, an early start meant that I still had plenty of time to drive over to Derry and tackle Errigal.

County Top Rating: 7/10

Useful Information
Height: 678 metres

CORN HILL, COUNTY LONGFORD

The hill may be only 278 metres making it one of the lowest County High-Points in Ireland but it has been responsible for bringing such treasures as Where In The World, Glenroe, Fair City and Murphy’s Micro Quiz-m to TV screens in the midlands since 1978!

‘Longford Hill Walking’….probably the first and last time you will ever hear that particular phrase! Longford is best known for its rivers and lakes and the associated fishing opportunities that they offer. It bears the second-lowest highest point in the country with Corn Hill (also known as Cairn Hill or Carn Clonhugh) topping out at 278 metres, just 18 metres higher than the summit of neighbouring County Westmeath. Corn Hill is one of a number of County High Points which houses an RTE transmitter – the 100 metre high structure atop the hill was opened in March 1978 to provide coverage to an area of poor reception in the midlands. Worryingly for anyone planning to climb the hill, the transmitter is the most powerful in Ireland with an ERP of 800kw…. whatever that means!

I started my journey from County Louth and the biggest challenge of the day turned out to be driving the stretch of the N52 linking the historic town of Kells to Mullingar. Listed as a national secondary road, I can only assume it was constructed by a group of people in the midst of a particularly severe and heavy drinking session. The road doesn’t so much link Kells with Mullingar; rather it meanders aimlessly around a series of extremely hazardous bends in the general direction of the Westmeath capital. The children amused themselves on the journey by counting the number of signs warning of dangerous oncoming bends. With the final count coming to 19, we were glad to see the roundabout to take us towards Longford and it wasn’t long before Corn Hill, easily identified by its mast, came into view.

Getting There
From Longford, the market-town of Drumlish is signposted. The town is probably best-known for the rather irritating ditty by country-crooner Declan Nearney and it looked pretty much uninhabited on our arrival. Perhaps the locals are afraid to go outside for fear of hearing Mr. Nearney singing his song. From Drumlish, the Ballinalee road will take you out towards Corn Hill but you do need to turn off this road prior to Ballinalee to get to the foot of the hill (a map or directions from an elusive local are helpful here).

The Route
As straightforward as it gets. Park up at the gateway beyond which lies the access ‘road’ up the hill. A few concrete steps lead across the wall beside the gate and from there, it’s a very short but pleasant stroll up the moss-covered laneway to the base of the transmitter. The lower sections of the transmitter are riddled with numerous satellite dishes whilst the structure itself is supported on all sides by a myriad of intimidating-looking stay wires which stretch out in all directions across the summit.

Lying inconspicuously just below the base of the transmitter under one set of stay wires is a large trig pillar, its outer case of concrete severely cracked by the weather and peeling off on two sides. The trig pillar itself sits atop a large cairn camouflaged by a thick covering of mossy grass. The mature plantation of trees ensures that whatever views were available from the hill are now very much restricted. The trees do however have the side effect of hiding the service buildings associated with the mast.

On my way back down the hill, I met an elderly couple making their way up the laneway and was informed that a group of people led by the local parish priest had traditionally walked the hill on the first Sunday of each June but the current priest had discontinued that tradition. The cairn atop the summit was reputedly the burial spot of an ancient King and tradition dictated that everyone carried a stone up the hill for placing on the cairn in order to enlarge it. The present state of the cairn with its thick coating of moss and grass indicated that this was another tradition that had died in recent times.

As I commented on the trees atop the hill, the man lamented that the plantation was an affront to it. ‘You used be able see nine counties from up there, she used to be a lovely spot but she’s not the same with those trees there. They wouldn’t get away with it these days but it was different back then, they’d plant those trees in boggy ground anywhere to make a few bob.’ Seeing the man building up a head of steam, the woman interrupted to take the conversation in a different direction and I decided not to mention the offensive mast which now dominates the hill to such a degree.

Conclusion
There’s not a whole lot to recommend for Corn Hill. It is another hill somewhat spoilt by a plantation of trees. The hill could be combined with Mullaghmeen in County Westmeath and Loughcrew in County Meath to take in the ‘Three Lowest High Points’ in one day and each of these hills are very-much child friendly. Despite the transmitter and the low hum from its service buildings, the hill does have a very peaceful and quiet feel to it. It’s just a pity that the views have been devastated to such an extent.

County Top Rating: 3.5/10

Useful Information
Height: 278 metres

 

KNOCKMEALDOWN, COUNTY WATERFORD

Straddling the Waterford/Tipperary border, the Knockmealdowns offer some great walking and fabulous views. At 794 metres, Knockmealdown is one of the higher County Tops but don’t be put off by the height, a large portion of it is accounted for by the drive to the starting point.

After a summer of seemingly incessant rain, I was surprised to find myself with a few evening hours to spare in relatively decent weather whilst working for a couple of days in county Tipperary. After a quick study of my map, I decided to head for the nearby Knockmealdowns. My target was Knockmealdown Mountain itself, the highest point of County Waterford.

I had a couple of previous encounters with the Top of Waterford without having actually set foot on it. On one occasion, I had ventured up nearby Sugarloaf Hill on an extremely misty morning but decided not to bother crossing over to Knockmealdown given the conditions and the complete lack of views. On another occasion, we again opted out of walking the range having spent the previous day on the Galtees taking in the highest point of the Premier County. Our excuse that time was again a thick blanket of mist covering the mountains but the truth was that it all looked like too much hard work after a night spent sampling the hostelries of Clogheen. If anyone finds themselves camping in the rather quaintly named Pallas Green campsite just outside Clogheen or staying in village itself, I have to recommend taking a visit to the not-so-quaint yet very unique establishment that goes by the name of Halley’s Pub. It is the kind of place that you very much have to take for what it is, the only small nod towards modernisation being the TV installed in the corner to show hurling matches or recordings of past hurling matches. There is every chance that the TV was also showing matches from the future on the night we visited, you’ll have to trust me when I say that it just is that kind of place! If the pub doesn’t fall down around you, I can almost guarantee that you will have an improbably good time!

Getting There

The range is easily accessible from the M8. Take exit 11 for Cahir and follow the signs for Clogheen. From Clogheen, you drive out to the dramatic hair-pin bend at the Vee Gap which was supposedly constructed as part of the famine relief scheme in the 1840s. Close to the Gap is the Bianconi Hut, an old stone building which was a stage post to provide relief to horses after the seemingly incessant climb up to the Vee. The hut was named after Carlos Bianconi, an Italian emigrant who was the founder of public transportation in Ireland at a time preceding railways. Bianconi established regular horse-drawn carriage services on a nationwide basis in the early 1800s.

Shortly after The Vee is Bay Lough, a well-known Corrie lake at the foot of Knockaunabulloga. Locals will tell you that the Lough is inhabited by ‘Pettitcoat Loose’, a woman of loose morals who was banished to the lake after casting her spell over a multitude of men. She was supposedly sent to the far bank of the lake to spend eternity attempting to empty it with a thimble and the story goes that she can be seen on occasions sitting on the bank trying in vain to carry out her impossibly mundane task. Indeed, few if any people will swim in the lake for fear of being pulled under by its forlorn inhabitant.

A walk on the Knockmealdowns can be started from a number of locations from the Vee onwards but I decided to start from the foot of Knockmealdown itself at Glennandaree Bridge. There are a couple of parking spots here to take a number of cars.

The Route

From the parking spot, make your way up the gentle slope veering slightly away from the Glennandaree Stream. The going is pretty easy initially but there is some heather to be encountered on the lower sections of the mountain. As you gain height, the heather relents and the ground becomes rockier as you approach the summit. The distance from the bridge to the top of County Waterford is approximately 2.5km. The summit stands at an impressive 794 metres and is marked by a trig pillar. I recently spoke to a woman whose ancestors carried the raw materials to build the trig pillar to the top of Knocmealdown and she and her family carry on the tradition by climbing the mountain each year. There are very steep falls nearly immediately from the trig pillar to the North of the mountain so care should be taken on a misty day.

Trig Pillar on Knockmealdown

Although the day was overcast, I was treated to really extensive and exceptional views. The overriding feeling standing at the trig pillar is that you are surrounded by an array of mountains which rise rather majestically from the flat plains of patterned and coloured fields which immediately surround the range. To the North-East sits the spectacular bulk of Slievenamon whilst due East are the impressive Comeraghs. Looking North-West leads the eye to the long and majestic range of the Galtees. It’s only to the South that the hills relent to give views along the South coast and out to the Celtic Sea.

Having bagged Knockmealdown, you may as well take the short walk across to nearby Knockmoylan. Barely qualifying as a separate mountain, it is still well worth a visit. Simply follow the remnants of the county wall before branching off in a North-East direction to the cairn standing at 768 metres. Again, the views are extensive particularly out across the plains of Tipperary over to the Galtee Mountains.

View from Knockmoylan back to Knockmealdown

From Knockmoylan, you can follow the wall back to Knockmealdown and drop back down to your starting point. For those feeling a bit more energetic, you can complete a short horseshoe walk by following the county wall over to Sugarloaf Hill. The crossing from Knockmoylan to Sugarloaf Hill along the ridge is over some of the easiest high ground I have walked on, so much so that I managed to jog most of it. To reach the summit of Sugarloaf Hill, you need to make a diversion from the County Wall at the place where it heads downhill. From there, it is a steep but short walk over rocky ground. The mountain is marked by 2 summit cairns, the second of which is the highest according to my GPS. Again, the views really are exceptional and probably my favourite of the walk, reaching out across the patchwork of colourful fields that make up the Golden Vale.

View from Sugarloaf Hill with Knockmealdown in the background

From Sugarloaf Hill, I headed back to the County Wall to descend to the road over some very steep and eroded ground. On the way down, views opened up across Bay Lough and I spent a short while watching to see if Pettitcoat Loose would make an appearance on the bank of the Lough. Heaven knows what I would have done had she done so!

Bay Lough from the slopes of Sugarloaf Hill

Unless you have two cars, the final part of the horseshoe walk requires following the road back to the parking spot at the bridge. Luckily for me, I was only on the road when a rickety old jeep passed me by, slowed down, then stopped before a head popped out of the driver’s window offering me a lift. The jeep had seen better days and judging by the smell and the various empty wrappers from sheep-related medicinal products littering the interior, it had also most likely had a history of ferrying sheep along the same road. In any case, I wasn’t complaining and was happy for the lift.

The elderly farmer was more interested in talking about the Comeraghs than the Knockmealdowns and seemed genuinely disappointed when I told him that I hadn’t walked them yet. However, his interest quickly perked up when I mentioned that I had climbed Slievenamon in the recent past. Upon relaying this fact, I was subjected to a barrage of sheep-related questions, none of which I had the answer to. For some reason, the old man wanted to know if there were any sheep on the mountain and how high up they were. Feeling completely out of my depth, I made up a story that there was a very heavy mist down the day I walked the mountain so I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face never mind any sheep in my immediate surroundings. I think he just about bought my story!

Conclusion

The Knockmealdowns are well worth a visit and offer some great high-level walking. At 794 metres, it is one of the higher County Tops but don’t let the height put you off as a lot of this is gained by the time you reach the starting point. The mountain is easily integrated into a longer walk should you have some time on your hands. The views from the top make the climb all the more worthwhile.

County Top Rating: 7.5/10

Useful Info

Height: 794 metres

OS Map: 74

GPS Trace: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/115049698

Nearest Pub: The sublime Halley’s Pub in Clogheen

 

 

This article originally appeared on the website http://www.walkingandhikingireland.com/. If you are considering taking up walking, then have a decent spin around this web site. It has rafts of excellent walking selections and tip and advice. The author, Paul O’ Connor, can be contacted at info@walkingandhikingireland.com.

And once you go on your walk, email us the story and pics! Editor@oldmooresalmanac.ie

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