This article by our guide Brian Bateson runs through some of his favourite training hikes to get you ready for your big adventure!
This is a great addition to our previous guide to the best hikes in Wicklow which you can read here.
“In revenge for Bláthnat’s betrayal of her husband Cú Roí, his poet Ferchertne threw both himself and Bláthnat to their deaths, from a cliff on Baurtregaum. Cú Roí had just died at the hands of the mighty Cú Chulainn, by way of payback for shaving him, humiliating him and stealing Bláthnat from him.”
Only on a mountain in Ireland could you get mythical tales of warriors, love triangles and an impenetrable stone fort. For example, Caherconree was said to magically revolve at night to prevent attackers from finding the entrance. Cú Chulainn must have had a fine pair of legs on him. The trek to the top is steep and unrelenting, a serious workout whatever your fitness.
The mountains of Ireland are small in comparison to our Europeans neighbours, standing at 1039 metres, Carrauntoohil is the highest point in the land. Relatively small in comparison to the 4000-metre peaks of the Alps. But what we lack in stature, we make up for in drama. And not just in the story form.
Anyone that has completed the Coumloughra Horseshoe or the airy traverse of the eastern McGillycuddy Reeks, passing over and around sandstone boulders will testify to the serious nature of Irish mountains.
While our mountains can hold their own in terms of fascinating geology, history, flora and fauna, there’s a unique selling point that Irish mountains have, where few can challenge. Within a short journey of any of our major cities, we can be transported into a wild but beautiful landscape, with awe-inspiring views and a stunning sense of remoteness. For me, no trip to the hills and mountains of Ireland has ever failed to revive and restore a sense of well-being.
The beauty of the mountains is that they are there for everyone and for all purposes. There’s no monopoly on the hills by anyone. For those looking for a workout, there’s more than enough physical and mental challenges on our doorstep.
Hopefully, I can recommend a little something for everyone, no matter what it is you’re looking for. However, as a qualified mountain leader and someone who spends a great amount of time in the hills, it would be irresponsible of me to continue this article without pointing out the obvious.
The mountains are an ever and rapidly changing environment and can conspire to cause serious stress, injury or harm to hill users. On a regular basis, I’ve experienced weather and visibility changes that would leave unprepared hikers freezing cold, disorientated and distraught.
If you do not have solid map reading and navigation skills, then please either attain them or walk in the company of those who do, be it a club or a guide, until such time as you do. Or you might end up like those trying to attack the Caherconree Fort, wandering around in the dark and the mist. Not a great outcome on a hill with so many cliffs.
Highest peaks in Ireland
I have no favourites as such when it comes to Irish treks, but there’s an obvious place to start with such a list. There are four provinces in Ireland and each one has a high point. And let’s be honest here, for some people it’s about the journey and not just the summit, for others, getting to the top of the hill is the whole point. Personally, I’m just happy to be in the outdoors. If I bag a peak, it’s a bonus.
So back to the four highest peaks in the four provinces:
Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Munster is always a fascinating day out, whatever route you take, and a good test of fitness. Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Leinster, more straight forward than the last climb, but a solid challenge none the less. Mweelrea in Connacht, a tough one on the legs and lungs and Slieve Donard in Ulster, a very accessible peak, but with a steep pull up to the top.
Most people interested in hiking in Ireland will have ticked many, if not all the above climbs. If you haven’t, you should. Some might even have done all four in one weekend, a fantastic challenge for the calves and the mind. They are among four of the best in the country, but there’s enough coverage of them out there already, so I’m going to recommend some other less travelled climbs.
These aren’t a list of the best or the hardest. They are simply a list of climbs that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. I hope you get to enjoy them too.
The beautiful one: The Beara Peninsula
Don’t be in a rush today. Park in Kerry and amble over the border into Cork. The scenery here will be forever etched into your mind, from the rugged hills beneath your feet to the one of a kind vista across Bantry Bay. Leave the car at the Healy Pass and follow the spine of the ridge south-west along Coombane and up to Hungry Hill. Looking down at Bere island from the summit above, turn 360 degrees and take it all in. Its possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the entire country.
Loop back to the car for a 10km day out or there are any number of variations you could make for a bigger day out, by starting further north along the Caha mountains to include Knockowen. Whatever route you decide to take, try fit in a visit to Teddy O’Sullivan’s pub in Kilmackillogue. Not to be missed on any trip to the Beara.
If you like this, you’ll love… the Coomasaharn Horseshoe, Co Kerry.
The long one: The Glenmacnass Horseshoe, Wicklow
There’s a huge amount of hiking to be done in Wicklow, with all manner of horseshoes, loops and link-ups that you can do to give you a short or long day out. To me, the Glenmacnass Horseshoe is one of the best days out you can have if you are preparing for a bigger trek or looking to really test the legs.
Park in Laragh and walk north along the R115 to the Wicklow Way path, turning right onto Paddock hill. Climb Scarr and Kanturk mountains, before dropping down to lunch at Glenmacnass waterfall. Cross the river going west for a tough and tiring climb up Tonelagee, before dropping down the broad spur and picking up the track to Brockagh and back into Laragh.
It’s a 24km day with over 1000 metres of ascent. You’ll be glad of a coffee and cake at Glendalough Green cafe afterwards, providing you get there before they close. Allow 7 hours for this long day out.
If you like this, you’ll love… The Crossing of the Mournes, Co Down.
The Obscure one: The Mullaghanattin Horseshoe, Kerry
There is such a wealth of climbing to do in Kerry, but the traffic always seems to be concentrated around Carrauntoohil. Get off the beaten track literally and check out the Mullaghanattin horseshoe. Park at Tooreenahone and walk counter-clockwise around the horseshoe, with the main objective of the day being to take in the steep and serious summit of Mullaghanattin.
Your legs and lungs will burn on the way up and the ridge walk is serious in nature, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the McGillycuddy reeks, from a new perspective. Exit via a track through a friendly farmer’s land, but be sure to be respectful of gates and livestock.
11km and a full day out. Although relatively close to Killarney, there’s not a lot out this way in terms of amenities, so be sure to bring the flask with you.
If you like this, you’ll love… Mount Errigal, Donegal.
The shorter one: Tomies and Purple Mountain
Park at Kate Kearney’s cottage and take the track to the top of Tomies Mountain and follow the spine of the ridge to Purple mountain for fantastic views over the lakes of Killarney and the Gap of Dunloe. Either retrace your steps back to the car, or drop down the south side of Purple mountain to the head of the gap. A scenic trek home on the road takes in lakes and cliffs on either side. Best avoided during the hectic summer months though.
It’ll still be 10 or 11km in distance, but a much easier proposition than any of the other treks listed here. Mix with the tourists in Kate Kearney’s afterwards, for log fires, trad and creamy pints.
If you like this, you’ll love… The Mahon Falls Horseshoe, Co Waterford.
The next one?
This one is up to you. I hope I’ve inspired you in some way, so if you are a good navigator, fit and know what you’re doing, then maybe buy a map of somewhere new, get creative and plan your next great day out.
If you’re not confident in the hills yet, then don’t feel restricted to the same old walks you’re used to doing. Join a walking group, hire a guide or learn how to navigate, so you can gain the confidence to explore every inch of this beautiful, wild and rugged Island for yourself, from the sea to the summit.”