Archive for July, 2009

July 20, 2009

Ireland part 2 – Connemara (Diamond hill and the Maumturks)

by backpackingbongos

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

July 18, 2009

Ireland Part 1 – The Wicklow Mountains

by backpackingbongos

Escaping from the ferry terminal in Dublin was much quicker and easier than anticipated and I even managed not to get lost whilst heading for the N11 out of the city!  It took a while to get my head around converting the speed limits from kph into mph as my van only shows the latter.  Traffic lights also took a little getting used to as there is not an amber phase when they turn from red to green.  Usually meant sitting there like a lemon after the lights had turned green!

On researching the trip campsites appeared to be a bit thin on the ground throughout Ireland, so we found and booked one before we left.  It was in the village of Rathdrum on the outskirts of the national park.  I have to admit that my heart sunk when we arrived early evening on the Saturday as it was absolutely packed to the rafters.  We were shown to a small space squeezed between massive caravans where I sat down for a quiet sulk.  I have to admit that I am not a big fan of organised campsites, much preferring to head for the hills and wild camping.  However this was a holiday with my partner who is not a massive fan of camping full stop, so a compromise had to be made.  Whilst I graded it poorly she gave it top marks for the facilities.  Anyway what did I expect arriving at a site an hour outside a capital city, next to a national park on a hot sunny Saturday!  Anyway for me it was with relief that we headed to the hills for a walk the next day.

Tonelagee (Toin le Gaoith) 817 metres

It was a stunning drive up the Glenmacnass valley where we parked above the waterfall.  This was obviously a popular local beauty spot with lots of people milling about taking photos of the falls.  We joined them for a while.

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I wanted to ease my partner into climbing Irish mountains gently, this hill looked like it should fit the bill with a high level start and not too steep slopes.  Almost immediately from the car park the route was pathless and there was an unbridged river crossing, luckily the water levels were very low.  A steep high bank lay in the way of the the main mountain ridge which was pretty tough going with waist high vegetation hiding slimy bogs.  This soon eased and a faint path was found that slowly but easily took us onto the minor summit of the north east ridge, giving the first view of the main summit.

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From the col the onward route looked impossibly steep and was littered with huge boulders.  However a good path wound its way through the rocks and soon brought us to the edge of the plateau.

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A few peat hags had to be crossed before walking across marshy ground to get the the summit trig point.  On a clearer day I would imagine that the views from here would be extensive.  However it was a hot humid summers day and much of the surrounding scenery was lost in the murk.

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We watched a red deer eyeing us nervously from a distance before making the descent towards Stoney top.  A feint path then led us above the rim of the steep corrie containing Lough Ouler before its steep descent.  As the summit had been too windy for lunch we made a beeline for some rocks next to the loch.  We were soon struggling though some deep tough vegetation hiding ankle breaking boulders, I suddenly became less than popular.

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Luckily after lunch we managed to pick up a rough path circling the loch before it descended alongside Lough Brook giving us an easy descent towards the Glenmacnass river.  It then suddenly vanished into a mass of tussocks, why paths disappear just when you really need them?  The mile or so back to the car park seemed endless as we tried to find a dry easy line down the valley, its amazing just how much difficult vegetation can slow you down

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We arrived back at the busy car park tired and rather wet from the knees down!

Glendalough – The Spinc – Mullacor 657 metres – Derrybawn Mountain 474 metres

When we returned to the campsite it had quietened down considerably so we decided to stay a couple of more nights so we could visit Glendalough.  I usually avoid tourist hot spots but seeing that we were tourists we thought that we should go and check it out.  A massive patrolled car park surrounded by burger vans and a large volume of people did not really fit in with the beautiful surroundings.  This was however soon left behind as we took a trail across pastures heading for the Pollanass waterfall.  An old stone cross led the eye towards the upper lake and the mountains.

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Pleasant easy walking took us past the waterfalls and along forestry tracks to the start of the trail leading to the top of the Spinc.  The trail throughout its length is made up of a wooden boardwalk to protect the fragile bogland from the large amount of foot traffic this popular walk gets.  Hundreds of steps lead up endlessly through dark conifers, with no view it is a case of head down and get the climbing out of the way.  Suddenly the trail emerges from the forest to a platform giving views down the valley to the lower lake.

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The view up the valley leads the eye into the Wicklow mountains.

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We were among a steady procession of people as we walked the length of the Spinc gradually gaining height and getting better views of the cliffs that fall directly into the upper lake.  In fact we got a bit carried away and walked straight past the path we had planned to take, climbing the highest part of this trail and beginning to descend before I looked at the map and realised the mistake.  With gritted teeth we turned around and walked against the tide of people.

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Once off of the main trail we were suddenly in a world of solitude as we followed an empty path that contoured above a forest filled valley.  The plan had been to climb to the summit of Mullacor but as we reached its peat hagged col the cloud that had been plaguing us all day descended and covered the summit.  With a fine drizzle falling we could not face a boggy climb with no views so we found a forestry track that contoured around the hill without losing height.  It was one of those really warm humid summer days so we decided to get wet from the rain rather than bake and get soaked inside our waterproofs.  Even out of the hill fog all views had disappeared into a thick grey haze, a bit of a disappointment.

The forestry track brought us to a col beneath Cullentragh mountain and we took a well defined path along a narrow (well for Wicklow) ridge towards Derrybawn mountain.  A superb airy walk where I imagine the views would be stunning in clear weather.

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A very steep path through deep heather brought us eventually back to the valley bottom where we walked to the beach at the head of the upper lake.  We could see why so many tourists are drawn here, not many capital cities can claim scenery like this almost on their doorstep!

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July 16, 2009

No ‘Right to roam’ in Ireland

by backpackingbongos

One of the things that surprised me when I was researching going to Ireland was the lack of a rights of way network, or an automatic right to access many of the hills and mountains.  There are places where you can walk pretty much unrestricted such as in National parks (less than 1% of land), govt owned forestry and the few long distance trails.  Basically on all other land including mountain and moorland access is at the discretion of the landowner no matter how remote it is.  This obviously came as something of a shock coming from a country that has a massive public footpath network and the right to roam over most uncultivated countryside.

Access to the hills was very good in the Wicklow mountains and as far as I was aware you had a right to walk the hills.  I was on the other hand a bit daunted about the access situation in Connemara which has been reported recently as getting more and more restrictive.  There is a national park there but I must really put the emphasis on the word ‘park’ it is tiny and really only covers one valley and its surrounding hills.  My first point of call when arriving was the national park centre to ask about access to the mountains outside the park.  I was basically told that you do not have any rights to climb the hills and you should seek permission from the land owner before doing so.  Are you really meant to go knocking on doors to ask to go into the hills?  This gave me a dilemma, I could go and ask and risk being told no.  What would I do then?  What if after walking several miles down a private track you are told to ‘bugger off’?  I really did not want confrontation when I my holiday!

This made planning great walks difficult as I usually like a good long walk through an isolated glen before taking to the hills. In Ireland these nearly always seemed to lead to a house.  I therefore did a mammoth walk in the national park across miles and miles of bogs to get to a stunning horseshoe on the Twelve Pins.  A great day but would have been even better if there was a right to access the hills from the many other valleys into the mountains.  On my other walks into the mountains I ended up parking in a really remote spot out of the reach of dwellings.  I felt like I may have been doing something wrong as I snuck up into the hills!  Usually I would have to climb over barbed wire or deer fences, with no paths leading across farmland into the hills.

The thing is as a visitor to the area I did not know what I could and could not do.  I may well have been overreacting and farmers and landowners may have welcomed me with opened arms and a cup of tea if I had knocked on their doors and just asked!  Ireland on the whole is a pretty friendly place.

We then went to Achill island in County Mayo to see its stunning scenery and with the knowledge that access is good there due to a large proportion being common land.

Anyway the point I would like to make is if Ireland put in some sort of legislation similar to the UK with regards to access rights it could be one of the best walking destinations in the world.  The scenery easily matches that of Scotland and the mountains are as rugged as you could wish for.  You can also walk all day without seeing a single person (one of the plus points maybe due to a lack of access?) Match that with really friendly people, loads of great pubs and music and you have a winning destination.

Loads of stuff on Keep Ireland open

I will soon get around to writting up some trip reports and posting some photos.

July 14, 2009

ULA Catalyst ordered

by backpackingbongos

After a few weeks of deliberation I have finally put in an order for a Catalyst pack from ULA Equipment.  I have been searching for a pack that strikes a balance between my ancient bombproof Berghaus Antaeus and my Golite Pinnacle.  I have been using the Pinnacle solidly for over a year now and it performs superbly with weights of under 10kg.  This makes it perfect for backpacks of one or two nights but any longer than that and the extra fuel and food makes it a bit uncomfortable for the first day or so.  On my recent Scottish Coast to Coast route I was out for 6 days at the tail end of winter carrying all my food and equipment.  The weight was simply too much for the Pinnacle even though I could fit everything into the sack.  I resorted to my old faithful heavyweight Berghaus which handled the 16kg carried well but it added over 2kg to the weight!  Only to find a lightweight pack that has a full internal frame, the search was on.

It was a comment from Martin at Summit and Valley that got me looking at ULA Equipment.  Lots of reading blogs etc and there is hardly a bad word said about their packs, they all get rave reviews.  A real low key cottage industry all made in the owner Brian’s garage in Utah, I much prefer supporting smaller produces.  After weighting the pros and cons I settled for the Catalyst which appears to be the perfect pack for me.  Although not really lightweight it still comes in at a respectable 1200gr for a full framed pack.  So last night was spent measuring my back and waist (which depressingly has increased a few inches over the past couple of year!).  An order was placed for a medium length, medium waist pack.

Unfortunately my order confirmation email contained the following:

On Saturday July 11th, Brian broke his leg and pending full recovery shipping and production will slow down.  If you are purchasing a Catalyst after July 12th we will unfortunately not be able to promise fulfilling your order.   All orders will be fulfilled as able, but turn around may be at a lag because of Brian’s bum leg.

It looks like it may be a while until I receive it.  Also a shame as Brian was closing shop at the beginning of August for a 3 month hike.

July 12, 2009

Back from Ireland……………………

by backpackingbongos

I am feeling just a little bit tired after driving back from the west coast of Ireland yesterday, it was a bit much to do all in one day!

Ireland was stunning with the scenery on the west coast easily equaling that of the west coast of Scotland.  Pure white beaches and really wild and rugged mountains with not a person in sight.  Managed to get some superb mountain days in, some of the hardest roughest walking I have ever done, solitude and stunning scenery does not come cheap!  I even managed to persuade my non hill walking partner up a few of the easier hills, luckily she was also happy to be left on a beach whilst I disappeared for the odd day with some distant peak in sight.

You cannot escape the fact that Ireland is wet, actually it is very wet! (Connemara gets over 250 days of rain a year).  On our first week apparently there was a heatwave in the UK, this did not reach us and we had many cool days of mist and drizzle.  However the weather is always changing  and although it rained most days there would be the odd hour or two when the skies clear and the rocks sparkle in the sunshine.  It does make it the greenest place I have ever visited, the density of the plant growth looks almost tropical in places.  This in turn provided some of the toughest boggy grassland imaginable!

The weakness of the pound against the Euro at the moment does make it a really expensive place to visit, £2 for a loaf of bread and £4 a pint means that spending money does not go too far.  Plus try and find a campsite for less than £18 a night…………………

Some posts and photos to follow in the next couple of weeks, in the meantime one of me enjoying the view on top of Diamond hill in Connemara.

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