Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Scarr on the double

Date: July 16th 2012
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn
Height: 641 metres
County: Wicklow

Distance: 5.16km
Dillon Count: 52

Second Occassion
Date: June 5th 2013

At the summit of Scarr

It's been a quite a while since I've updated this blog. In that time, I've been up Scarr in the Wicklow Mountains twice. The first time was on a walk from Glenmacanass Waterfall whilst the second occasion was during an IMRA race.

I can't remember much of either occasion. The walk from Glenmacannas is straightforward and quite easy-going after the initial climb up to Kanturk. The path from Kanturk is well defined with the pretty nondescript summit of Scarr being marked with a small and unimpressive cairn. I walked the mountain on a fine summers evening with the out-and-back route easily done within the hour including stops to take some photos. Views from the top are impressive with Tonelagee dominating the view to the west and the vista continuing around to The Great Sugarloaf and the glistening Irish Sea.

Evening view from Scarr
View from the top of Scarr

On the descent, the light from the sun setting over Tonelagee cast vibrant colours on the slopes of Scarr as well as the surrounding hills.
Sunlight on the slopes of Scarr

Recollections of the IMRA race are equally vague other than it was a gorgeous summer evening. The weather brought a big crowd out with 230 taking part. This was one of the more runnable IMRA races and I think I managed to run the majority of the ascent. As always with these races, the descent was great fun and extremely tiring. I finished the race in a credible position of 110 with a time 47:51.

Feeling the going on the descent
The route used for the IMRA race is longer than the walk from Glenmacannas (close to 8km) but is probably more interesting and certainly offers better walking on a more defined path.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Quick Walk In The Galtees

Date: July 16th 2012
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn
Height: 639 metres
County: Tipperary

Distance: 6.31km
Dillon Count: 51

At the summit of Cush

Another mountain 'bagged' when stopping-off on a drive down the country. A detour through the Glen of Aherlow on an overcast day led me to the foot of the cloud-covered Galtee Mountains.

From the north, Cush (or Binnia as Paddy Dillon calls it) looks very impressive, it's cone shape appearing to rear-up steeply from the land below. Indeed, it looks almost impossibly steep from some angles. However, it's profile starts to take on a much more gradual form as you drive towards Clydagh Bridge.

For most, Cush would represent the first mountain on a day of exploring the Galtees. It is most often used as a stepping-stone on the way to Galtybeg and Galtymore. I probably represented a very small subset of walkers that climbed Cush purely for it's own sake. I was also using it to get in a bit of training for a planned walk of the Mourne Wall.

Initial Path Up Cush

I started my walk by parking at Clydagh Bridge forest entrance where there is room for a number of cars. From here, follow the road uphill to a stile on the left which bears a 'No Dogs' sign. Cross the stile and follow an obvious track along the edge of the forest before crossing a fence and heading straight for the summit of Cush.

Heading for Cush
Heading For The Summit

The walk up Cush was indeed steep and a combination of 3 hours driving and ever increasing cross-winds meant that I found the going quite tough. With each upward step, the wind stiffened and by the time I eventually reached the top, it was blowing a gale. To add to that, the gale was blowing in a covering of cloud and the surrounding mountains soon disappeared from view.

Galtybeg and Galtymore from Cush
Galtybeg and Galtymore being enveloped in cloud

It's hard to pinpoint the summit of Cush but my GPS reckoned it was close to a gathering of rocks at the edge of a cliff so I settled for that, took a few photos and quickly made my way back down off the mountain.  In fact, I made my way a bit too quick and headed off running on a slightly wrong bearing meaning that I had to take a detour at the foot of the mountain to get back on track!

Cush & Galtybeg
Looking back at Cush and Galtybeg

On a fine sunny day, I'd imagine Cush would be a beautiful walk and that, being the most northerly of the Galtee Mountains, would make an excellent viewing platform for the range. On the day I visited, the strong wind made for difficult walking conditions and the cloud cover robbed me of any views. Hopefully, I'll walk Cush again in better conditions!
Cush, Galtee Mountains
Final climb up Cush

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Djouce (again)

Date: June 13th 2012
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn
Height: 725 metres
County: Wicklow

Distance: 13km
Walked Previously

Another jaunt to the top of Djouce, this time as part of an uphill-only IMRA race which started at Crone Woods. This is the only uphill-only race in the IMRA calendar and I'm not sure I'm the biggest fan of this type of race. The most enjoyable part of hill-running for me are the descents and it's on the downhill section that I normally make up a few places.

The conditions on top of Djouce were completely different to the last race with a thick mist resulting in very limited visibility. However, this did offer the big advantage of hiding the pain that lay ahead. Once more, the last pull towards the top of Djouce was pure agony but after what seemed like an eternity, the trig point eventually emerged from the mist and the suffering was over.

A great route for a walk or a run with excellent views down onto Powerscourt Waterfall.

Hill Running, Djouce Mountain
Heading back down

Hill Running, Djouce Mountain
Heading back down

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A quick 'Up and Down' Djouce

Date: May 23rd 2012
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn
Height: 725 metres
County: Wicklow

Distance: 8.31km
Walked Previously

This was my second visit to the summit of Djouce and easily my shortest stay ever on top of a mountain.

With the hill-running bug taking hold, I decided to give the Irish Mountain Running Association's (IMRA) Leinster League a shot. This is a series of hill-races over the summer and Djouce was to be my fourth race in the league and the toughest challenge to date.

As always, the organisation of the race was excellent. A field opposite the race-start doubled up as a temporary car-park and registration area. Registration was quick and efficient and not long after signing up, we made our way over to the starting point at Glasnamullen woods and soon the race director casually announced that the race had begun.

The first couple of kilometres were to lull me into a false sense of security as we ran along a trail up a gradual incline surrounded by trees. This section served to stretch the runners out a bit and I settled into my usual slot somewhere in  the middle of the field.

Runners on the lower slopes of Djouce (Courtesy Angus Tyner)

With summer having finally arrived, I was thankful to be running in the cool shade of the trees. Leaving the woods and emerging onto the open mountainside, the going begun to get tougher as the incline steepened and the ground underfoot became uneven. The pace quickly dropped and most of us settled into a routine of walking the steeper sections and running the rest. With calf-muscles burning, I was delighted to turn a corner onto the Wicklow Way which contours along the upper slopes of Djouce providing some easier ground on which to run as well as amazing views across to the Great Sugarloaf Mountain.

However, it wasn't long until we had to leave the Wicklow Way and tackle the last steep section before the summit of Djouce. After what seemed like an eternity, the cairn finally came into view followed by the summit marshall standing alongside the Trig Point marking the top of Djouce. The marshall advised us all to lift our heads and take in the views but I could only muster a quick glance up and my brain was in no fit state to attempt to make sense of what looked to be a stunning vista.

I had convinced myself on the ascent that once I got to the top, all the hard work was done and the downhill section would look after itself. I really couldn't have been further from the truth.. The descent was ridiculously fast and I soon found myself careering over some very uneven and rocky ground. Each step on the hard ground pounded my tired legs further into submission and I hadn't factored in the high level of concentration required to quickly pick each footstep on this kind of terrain. 

On the Descent (Courtesy Mick Hanney)

On a couple of occasions I stubbed my toe off a rock, a sure sign that my concentration was waning as my body tired. The third such time was to prove unlucky as I tripped over a rock I hadn't seen and was sent flying headlong off the trail. Luckily for me, I landed in a soft bed of heather and was quickly back on my feet albeit with some of the wind knocked out of my sails.

The last couple of kilometres coming off the mountainside and down through the woods were to prove very tough and I was pretty much a busted flush by the time I crossed the finish line. However, all the thoughts I had on the way up, all the times I told myself I'd not be doing this again, my resolution that next week I'd stay home and have a few beers instead.. all of that was forgotten within a few seconds of crossing the finishing line.

The pain and tiredness quickly vanished and what was left were memories of a hugely enjoyable 55 minutes on the mountain where there was nothing else on my mind other than the next step I was going to take and the pure feeling of exhilaration from the crazy descent. This escape from the stress and worries of everyday life combined with the amazing feeling of freedom is pretty much the essence of hill-running for me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

50 Up in South Wicklow

Trig Pillar on Croaghanmoira Summit

Thursday, 3rd May
Staring and Finishing Point: View on Google Maps
Length: 4.12km


Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn
Height: 664 metres
Dillon Count: 50

Having being stuck on 49 Dillons for 8 months, I finally found time to bag number 50 and reach something of a minor milestone. My interest in running, something I initially took up to build up fitness for my Mourne Wall Walk, had led onto an interest in Hill Running. This interest was augmented by a reading of Moire O' Sullivan's excellent book 'Mud, Sweat and Tears'. Having read the book, I set my mind on taking on some of the Irish Mountain Running Association hill races in 2012.

And so, the small amount of spare time I had which previously would have been used for hill-walking, was spent running. However, a trip down the country provided the perfect opportunity to get a walk in and having done a tough hill-race the previous evening, my legs were happy to be able to take things at a slower pace.

I had been interested in Croaghanmoira for some time as I'd read a few reports of people running up the mountain. Tracks left over from it's deforestation provided ideal terrain for this activity and offered the opportunity to quickly bag the mountain without too much of a challenge to my tired legs.

Earlier in the day, I had stopped off at The Great Sugar Loaf, a mountain I had wanted to climb for some time but had never got around to. The drive from The Sugar Loaf down to Croaghanmoira was navigated by a cheap and cheerful app on my iPhone and whilst I highly doubt it was the most efficient route, it took my through some wonderfully scenic parts of County Wicklow culminating in the longest stretch of downhill road I've ever driven on.

From the starting position, Croaghanmoira is a very handy mountain to climb. There are a number of tracks making their way up the mountain. I choose to aim for the corner where the trees meet the clearing and quickly picked up a track which took me to this location. From there, the track swings right keeping along the tree-line. Very soon, the shapely summit of the mountain comes into view and another track leads you directly to the top.

Me on Croaghanmoira
Me at the trig point on the summit of Croaghanmoira

The summit of the mountain is adorned with a trig-point from which some of the first Ordnance Survey measurements were taken. It's easy to see why Croaghanmoira was used for these early measurements as it's relatively isolated position makes for superb views of the surrounding landscape. I was particularly lucky in that I got probably the one good clear evening in a prolonged period of wet and cloudy weather.

View From Croaghanmoira
Views from the summit

Wicklow Mountains from Croaghanmoira
Trig-pillar on the summit

Despite this being a straightforward walk, I still managed to take a wrong turn on the return journey. I had decided to jog back down whilst listening to some music and after a short while found myself on a track surrounded by trees on all sides - I'd become so distracted by the music that I'd managed to miss my turn off one track onto another. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I took another track in the correct direction to complete the walk back to my starting point.

In summary, a handy wee walk and one definitely worth taking on a good clear day to enjoy the exceptional views.

More Photos
Croaghanmoira Path
Track down the mountain

Croaghanmoira Trig Pillar
Trig Pillar

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Evening In The Knockmealdowns

Slievenamon and The Golden Vale

Wednesday,14th September 2011
Staring and Finishing Point: Glennandaree Bridge
Length: 10.4km

Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn, County Top
Height: 795 metres
Dillon Count: 48

Classification: Dillon, Hewitt,
Height: 768 metres
Dillon Count: 49

Sugarloaf Hill
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt
Climbed Previously

After a summer of seemingly incessant rain, I was suprised to find myself in a position where I had a few evening hours to spare in relatively decent weather whilst working for a couple of days down in county Tipperary. After a quick study of my map, I decided to head for the nearby Knockmealdowns. My target was Knockmealdown itself, the highest point of County Waterford. The added bonus is that the mountain comes with a 2nd 2,000 footer free, that being Knockmoylan which is only a very short stroll away.

I had a couple of previous encounters with the Top of Waterford without having actually set foot on it. On one occassion, 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 occassion, 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!

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 1840's. Close to the Gap is the Bianconi Hut, an old stone building which was a stagepost to provide relief to horses after the seemingly incessant climb up to the Vee. The hut was named after Carlos Bianconi, an Italian emmigrant 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 1800's.

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 inhabitated 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 occassions sitting on the bank trying in vein to carry out her impossibly mundane task. Indeed, few if any people will swim in the lake for fear of being pulled under by it's folorn inhabitant.

A walk of 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.
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.

On Top of County Waterford (Knockmealdown)
Me at the Trig Pillar on Knockmealdown
Knockmealdown Trig Pillar
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 spectactular 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, the walk across to Knockmoylan was very straightforward. Indeed, Knockmoylan barely qualifies as being a seperate summit but it is 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.

At the summit of Knockmoylan
At the summit cairn on Knockmoylan

From Knockmoylan to Knockmealdown
Looking from Knockmoylan across to Knockmealdown

Making good time, I decided to complete a short horseshoe by following the county wall over to Sugarloaf Hill which I had bagged previously in a heavy mist. 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.

On the summit of Sugarloaf Hill
At the summit cairn on Sugarloaf Hill
View from Sugarloaf Hill
View from the summit of Sugarloaf Hill with Slievenamon 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
Bay Lough from the slopes of Sugarloaf Hill. Thankfully, Pettitcoat loose wasn't sitting on the bank!

Unless you have two cars, the final part of the 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 drivers 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 of 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!

The horseshoe is highly recommended and once the height has been gained, it offers some very easy high-level walking. The downside of starting from the bridge is the steep and eroded descent down from Sugarloaf Hill but I believe there is an easier route down towards the Vee Gap. The walk could be lengthened to include Knocknafallia and Knocknagnauv to the West.


Additional Images
Slievenamon and the Comeraghs from Sugarloaf Hill
Slievenamon and the Comeraghs from Sugarloaf Hill

From Sugarloaf Hill to the Galtees
View over the Golden Vale to the Galtee Mountains from the cairn on Sugarloaf Hill

View along the County Wall
View along the County Wall

View across the Gap
View down to the gap on the steep descent of Sugarloaf Hill.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Taking the Leap to the Top of Cork

On Top of County Cork

Saturday, 6th August 2011
Staring and Finishing Point: Priests Leap Car-Park

Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Marilyn, County Top
Height: 706 metres
Dillon Count: 47

The Priests Leap
Classification: Minor Top
Height: 519 metres

Following the now tried and trusted pattern of the previous week, the weather continued to oscillate between periods of warm sunshine and periods of heavy, almost thundery showers. The last day of my holiday began with a torrential downpour before seemingly settling into a prolonged bout of radiant sunshine. Armed with a set of co-ordinates kindly texted to me by my neighbour, I stepped out the front-door of our holiday home into the morning sunshine. The co-ordinates would lead me to the rather infamous Priest's Leap, the starting point of choice for a walk up Knockboy, the highest point in County Cork. It was more in hope than expectation that I entered these co-ordinates into a free GPS application I had downloaded to my iPhone. However, I was pleasantly suprised when, coming into Bonane, the phone patiently prompted me to turn left and when doing so, I caught sight of a small signpost marked 'Priest's Leap Pass'.

In the past, I had read several reports of the drive up to the Priest's Leap and not one of them made pleasant reading. The only small crumb of comfort was that I had been told that the road was far more exposed if approaching from the Glengariff side. The fact that one section of the road wasn't even marked on the OS map didn't much help my frame of mind. However, although very narrow and with passing spots few and far between should another vehicle be met, the road didn't prove anywhere near as bad as I had anticipated. Luckily, the only traffic I met was a friendly local who had no hesitation in shoving his van into reverse and speeding off backwards before skilfully parking the van halfway into a ditch in order to let me pass.

My reliable old workhorse of a car had been dragged up several mountain roads during it's lifetime and it took most of this one in it's stride. The early morning downpour resulted in a continuous river or water running off the mountains and down the upper section of the road. As I passed from the section of road marked on the map to the section that wasn't, I had to engage first gear to make the final steep climb to the top of the pass.

There is a parking spot at the top of the pass close to the cross marking the The Priest's Leap. The parking spot is just about wide enough to accomodate three cars. The cross marks the spot from which legend has it that a priest being pursued by English soldiers jumped with his horse and landed in Bantry several miles away. The views from the top of the pass are simply magnificent, encompassing Bantry Bay to one side and across over the Caha Mountains and the Reeks to the other.

Priests Leap
View from Priests Leap

I was so busy concentrating on reaching the top of the pass that I hadn't noticed the change in the weather nor the buffeting wind that was coming across the mountain. However, that soon became apparent when I stepped out of the snug interior of my car and set off uphill towards Knockboy.

As for the walk itself, there's not much I can say to recommend it. It had been described as something of a trudge and I wouldn't vary too much from that description. I was only minutes up the hill when a heavy and prolonged shower of rain arrived to dampen my spirits. To add insult to injury, the shower was swiftly followed by a thick mist. Realising that this had now become a case of bagging the summit as quickly as possible, I ventured on making my way up to Lough Boy. At the Lough, I managed to miss the fence that leads to the summit so took the lazy option of following my GPS instead. The most impressive aspect of the walk was the noise of several streams of water, enlarged by the recent rain showers, cascading down the mountain.

View from Knockboy
View from Knockboy

After what seemed like an eternity of trudging through pools of water and muck, the trig point that marks the highest point of County Cork finally came into view. I delayed at the summit long enough to send a text to my neighbour thanking him for his co-ordinates before retracing my steps back down the mountain to my parking spot.

By the time I got back to the car, the weather was showing signs of clearing so I ventured up the hill at the other side of the road. Depending on what map you study, the hill is called Cummeenshrule, Knockboy West Top or Priests Leap. From the carpark, it's a handy walk to the summit which is marked by a pool. The walk took me through some bog complete with cut and stacked turf and offers great views down to Glengariff.
Turf Cutting at Priests Leap

Overall, not one of the most enjoyable walks I've ever been on. I've been told the views from Knockboy on a clear day are stunning and I'm sure the walking would be a lot easier in drier conditions. One to save for a sunny summer's day (if you are lucky enough to get one!)