Writer and photographer Adrian Hendroff never ceases to be inspired by Ireland’s landscape. A qualified Mountain Leader, he offers advice on hill-walking and mountaineering around Ireland, and gives us a sneak preview of all his favourite peaks
Ireland’s landscape is varied and distinctive. Beyond the low-lying plains of the midlands are untrodden high places that form a ring of coastal mountains on the western fringe of Europe. Ireland’s high places are quiet, too: I’ve often spent time in the mountains alone.
Whether it’s a scenic stroll or a challenging hike, Ireland’s great outdoors are for everyone to discover at their own abilities, and their own pace.
If you’re seeking a challenge in the Irish mountains, keep in mind they’re mostly a trackless wilderness. There are few signposts and paths, and the terrain can be rugged, rocky and barren. Changeable Atlantic weather patterns can result in four seasons in a single day up there: mist, wind, rain and then glorious sunny spells. These conditions demand map and compass navigation experience, in addition to proper clothing and gear.
For a walker with no desire for exploring the greater heights, Ireland has 40 National Waymarked Trails and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ranging in distance from 25km to over 200km. There are also over 150 shorter National Looped Walks, mainly off-road circuits designed to link into the Waymarked Trails. These signposted trails are designed to cater for walkers of all age groups. They can be leisurely explored in sections as day walks or tackled over several days. The looped walks can range in length from an hour to full day walks.
For my own mountain excursions, I love the West of Ireland for its mountains close to the sea, captivating lakes and remote valleys. Favourites include the Cloon Horsehoe in the Iveragh Peninsula; Croagh Patrick; and the sea-cliffs of Slieve League in Donegal.
On the eastern side of the island, I like the Giant’s Causeway andthe mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland, a compact area of diverse hills that inspired C.S. Lewis to create his magical land of Narnia. My favourite walks there are around the Silent Valley, on hills such as Doan and Slieve Binnian. Further south, I love the area around Kelly’s Lough and Art’s Lough in the Wicklows in particular, and the Galtees and the Comeraghs.
On a recent trip I spent a starlit night camped near the sapphire-blue lake of Cummeenoughter, below Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest mountain) in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. As early as 3.15am the next day, I awoke and climbed to the summit of Carrauntoohil, arriving before dawn. It was an incredible experience watching the sky, mountains, valleys and land light up in a delicate dawn quality.
The mountains of Ireland are a humbling experience: they provide a sense of ancestral wonder and an opportunity to reach higher, think deeper, look further and breathe easier.
Adrian’s book ‘From High Places: A Journey Through Ireland’s Great Mountains’, is published by The History Press Ltd in October 2010. www.adrianhendroff.com
For more information, please visit Walking on Discover Ireland.