It was a day of firsts. It was my first time in Ireland, my first ‘munro’ outwith the UK and my first mountain bordering on a military firing range.
It was also a very long day. Starting with a late night ferry from Cairnryan over to Belfast I arrived at 1am into a rainy and deserted city. It was far too late to contemplate finding a campsite (even if they would stay up to such an ungodly hour) and so instead I’d staked out a shopping centre car park to park my campervan and kip for a few hours. By 7am the rain had stopped and after a quick breakfast I headed south through the morning rush hour.
Lugnaquilla was my first target in a week devoted to climbing Ireland’s highest peaks – or simply “Lug” to the Irish. I’d previously climbed all of the munros in Scotland and the ‘munros’ furth of (outwith) Scotland in England and Wales, and to complete climbing the Furths I set my sights on Ireland’s 13 3000+ foot summits. I’ll share a future post about the logistics of organising a trip to climb Ireland’s highest mountains, together with posts of my walks to Galtymore, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Brandon Mountain. (And isn’t it interesting that the names of the mountains in each of Scotland, Snowdonia, the Lake District and Ireland are so different?).
En route I had an errand to do: to pick up some of my neice’s belongings from her apartment in Dublin. She’d just quit her job there to go globetrotting for a year or two and with a bit of space in the campervan it seemed churlish not to become a delivery driver for the week too.
The rolling, green hills I’d driven through all the way down from Belfast to Dublin soon started to grow larger as I left Dublin’s ringroad. Sharper, pointy mountain things appeared on the horizon: the Wicklow Mountains. As I turned off the M11 past the small town of Rathdrum towards Glenmalure the roads narrowed and became progressively bumpier. Ah, rural Ireland!
This was also about the time I realised that navigating Ireland by road signs alone is not the easiest task you might imagine. Now I’m sure to locals it makes perfect and logical sense to only name the places within 5-10 miles of where you live. Why bother signposting places much further away? It’s unnecessary information much of the time. But a combination of poor signposting, a roadmap that covered the whole of Ireland on a single page, no GPS in my van and the fact that I was the navigator and driver combined meant that this was just the start of several meandering journeys across rural Ireland. I soon discovered that my usual tactic of simply ‘following my nose’ wasn’t necessarily the most effective or efficient way to get from A to B. Unless you’re happy to check in at C, G and possibly J on the way of course.
At about 1pm I parked in a large car park at the end of the road in Glenmalure and had a quick bite to eat before heading off. I took the mine track once I’d crossed the river. It was an improving day now: dry, warm and with the sun threatening to make an appearance. My first mistake was to lose my map, however. I’d taken a few photos during the first 10 minutes walk up the track and I was nearing the top when I realised I’d dropped my map. I retraced my steps but failed to find it, suspecting that a family I’d seen near the car park had picked it up. Luckily, I’d printed a route map I’d found online and used this alone to navigate. (Not advisable of course but on a clear day with a clear path it turned out to be enough).The path past the old mine joins the main vehicle track through Fraughan Rock Glen, and I in turn soon reached a narrower, stony path that climbs fairly steeply beside a waterfall (which you can just see in the centre of the picture below). The views down the Glen started to open up. I followed a clear, grassy path westwards that slowly gained height, a path that could become boggy in wet weather. The grassy path curves around to the south to follow the broad ridge leading towards the summit. Here the walking is easier, on short, cropped grass. There’s no clear path at this point but by gradually turning southeast as the ridge rises (between two glacial corries on either side called the North and South Prisons), the summit finally comes into view. It’s a substantial summit cairn, together with a small rectangular stone box topped with a copper plaque naming nearby hills (long since unreadable unfortunately). The most notable aspect of the summit isn’t the cairn nor the view, but the ominous warning sign informing you that you’re just steps away from a military artillery range. The warnings are all rather dramatic and given I had no desire to get blown to smithereens I didn’t investigate further. The hoped-for sunshine didn’t appear but dark clouds gathered instead on my return back to the van. Luckily, it stayed dry and gave a good cloudscape to accompany the view down Fraughan Rock Glen.
After losing my map in the first hundred metres from the car park it was an enjoyable and uneventful walk, taking 3.5 hours (moving time) to walk 14km. I left around 5pm bound for Apple Farm campsite in Tipperary, a 2-hour journey. However, owing to particularities of navigating Ireland’s rural roads it took a wee bit longer than that ……..