The wild west of Ireland was soon calling us so we packed up the camper and headed out of the rolling hills of County Wicklow. The Wicklow mountains are an area I would like to return to one day, perhaps for a spot of backpacking. When setting up the national park I do feel that they went a little bit overboard putting the word ‘mountain’ in the title. In reality it is an area of high, rough and wild moorland similar to parts of the Cheviots or the North Pennines. But then what is a mountain? On my last day in Ireland I spent a couple of hours trying to figure how to get safely down off a hunk of bog and rock that did not even break the 600 metre contour. In my mind that was most definitely a mountain even though it was smaller than many of the moors of say the Peak District. I will write about that in another post.
The Wicklow gap road gave a grand exit out of the hills climbing to nearly 500 metres. Throughout the day we regretted setting the sat nav to avoid motorways as we drove down a succession of ‘R’ roads that are the equivalent of our ‘B’ roads. It felt like we were following tractors across most of the width of the country. The landscape was muted by a fine constant rain and low clouds, not the best day of the holiday! The scenery soon became more dramatic and wilder once we had passed Galway City, with miles of bogland and Loughs replacing the green fields. You could sense the rising mountains all around you rather than actually see them as everything was hidden by curtains of mist.
After being hemmed in by a regimented campsite I was craving something much wilder, so I was relieved when we drove down the steep track leading to the campsite near Tully on the Rinvyle peninsular. A quiet informal campsite located next to a perfect deserted stretch of white sand. The rain just started to clear to show the backdrop of the Connemara mountains on the horizon. After setting up camp I was soon walking around taking photos in the great evening light that you only seem to get in the far north and west.
Connemara national park – Diamond hill 442 metres
The mist and drizzle had returned the following morning so after a long lie in and procrastination around camp we headed to the Connemara national park centre. The aim being to find about access to the hills, get a weather forecast and climb Diamond hill. Well I found out that there is no legal right to access the hills which I wrote about here. As to the weather I was told that it pretty much rains everyday and it was likely to continue raining today as well! So with waterproofs packed we headed out of the centre onto the well signed trail to Diamond hill. This is the only designated trail within the national park, the rest being untamed pathless bog and mountain. There were therefore a few folks out and about on the 3 coloured routes that either circle or climb the small but impressive peak. It was really only a case of following the red arrows whilst taking in the scenery on a fairly easy 3 hour walk.
The Maumturks – Barrslievenaroy 702 metres
The Maumturk mountain range runs for 15 miles and includes many convoluted rocky summits apparently giving some of the roughest walking in Ireland. There are often local challenge walks to complete the whole ridge in a day, looking at the map it also looks like it would make a great backpack with a wild camp along the way. The weather was too iffy to try and complete a big day in the hills and all the guide books recommended clear weather as they are meant to be easy to get lost on. My partner was happy for me to go off for a walk on my own for the day so I came up with a route taking in the highest peak on the ridge.
I left the van on the minor road just off of the R344 and followed wet boggy ground into the valley marked as An Uillinn Thair on my Harvey map. For once the vegetation was nice and short for Ireland and I made good progress towards the head of the valley.
A steep but easy grassy slope led between crags to the col between Barrslievenaroy and Knocknahillion with good views back to the Inagh valley and Lehanagh lough.
On reaching the col I got my first glimpse of the rocky bulk of Barrslievenaroy clearing from the mist. I have to admit I started thing to myself, ‘how the hell am I going to get up there!’
Behind me was the mountain Knocknahillion which does not even reach the 2000ft contour, proving that height really is not the defining factor of what is and is not a mountain.
I stopped for a bite to eat whilst I waited for the rest of the cloud to lift at a small mountain lake below the main ridge. Whilst sitting there I heard a strange flute like noise, a bit like the clangers. Standing up and looking round I really couldn’t tell where it was coming from. When I sat down again the same noise started up again this time a little louder, the noise stopped again when I stood up to have a look around. Feeling a little unnerved I started towards the ridge when the noise started yet again, this time I heard laughter and turned round just in time to see some dread locked hippy bloke hiding behind a rock!
The beginning of the ridge was very steep cropped grass littered with stones and small boulders, which made walking fairly treacherous as there was nothing to grab hold of. To my left there was a great view of the isolated roadless Glenglosh valley.
As I gained the ridge proper things suddenly felt a bit safer as I was able to scramble over firm rock, I even managed to pick up a feint path that helped with route finding. I got an even better view of Knocknahillion and the Maumturk ridge continuing to the north.
It was at this point that I heard a distant rumble of thunder. Now thunder storms are one of the few things that really worry me when I am out on the mountains. In fact since one really bad experience that I wrote about here, I have developed a bit of a phobia about being stuck outdoors in one again. I thought that I should contour round the slope a bit to check out the sky in the direction I had heard the rumble. What I saw worried me , it was as if someone had painted the whole sky and horizon black. Scenery in front of me appeared to be being engulfed in a fast moving wall of darkness. A sudden clap of thunder echoed around the mountains so loudly that I could feel it in the ground. I panicked and shifted pretty quickly back in the direction that I had come! As I reached the lake the rain suddenly came in huge 50p sized drops soaking me instantly, in fact I got wet so quickly there was no point on getting out my waterproofs. As I walked round the lake a huge flash of lightening lit up the sky and a mighty crash of thunder turned my walk into a run. In the distance I could see the hippy bloke and his mate moving pretty sharpish to get down off the hills. As I reached the col a bolt of lightening flashed down in the valley below me, in my haste I wasn’t looking where I was putting my feet and I slipped on the steep wet short cropped grass. Luckily I only slid about 10 feet, it could have been much worse if I had been wearing my waterproofs. Just below the col I heard a shout and it was the two guys earlier sheltering in a shallow cave, waving me over. I remember reading somewhere that you should avoid caves in thunderstorms, so I shouted back my concerns and continued legging it down the valley. What I found amazing was the sheer volume of water now pouring off of the hillsides. The stream that I had followed earlier was now a raging torrent, luckily I was on the right side as a crossing would have risked being swept away. Waterfalls were now falling over cliffs which had not been there previously. The whole valley was filled with the sound of water. Along the valley bottom I sloshed through the now saturated bogs with water coming well above my ankles. I cannot explain the relief I felt when I reached the van.
As the road was deserted I stripped off at the roadside and rang my clothes out and emptied my boots, I was thankful for the change of clothing I had in the back. Typically once I was dry in the van the weather cleared leaving a great view of the Twelve Bens / Pins on the other side of the Inagh valley. However I could see another storm lining itself up on the horizon and the first rumble of thunder started as I drove off.
I drove the 20 miles or so back to the campsite to share my tales with my partner who I assumed would be worried for me. I got there only to find that the storms had not even reached the coast! However later that evening a massive amount of rain tested our Tentipi’s waterproofing to the limit. Over the following few days we learnt that a house in Connemara had been struck by lightening and burnt down, roads had been washed away in Mayo and Dublin had been flooded. The power of nature sometimes can be awesome.
In the next post I actually get to the top of a mountain in Connemara!