Standing proud towards the end of the Dingle Peninsula in the far southwest of Ireland is Brandon Mountain. It’s the most westerly of Ireland’s 900 metre ‘munros’, in County Kerry.
In these parts, all place names and landmarks are in the Irish language and so you’ll find Brandon Mountain marked as Cnoc Breanainn (or Brendan’s Hill), after Brendan the Navigator who was born nearby at Tralee in 484AD. The 3-4 hour walk is a well known pilgrimage route and the most scenic path – the Pilgrim’s Path – starts from a small car park at Faha, above the small village of Cloghane (An Clochan). It’s a fairly narrow squeeze up the access lane and there are spaces for around 8 – 10 cars.
This was the final Furth I had to climb in Ireland, having previously climbed all of the munros and mountains of equivalent height in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. A pilgrimage indeed.
I had intended to do a circular route, returning via the Faha Ridge but owing to deteriorating weather near the summit, instead enjoyed an out-and-back walk.
The path from the car park goes directly past the Faha grotto; make sure you turn right up the hill at the sign below. Just as the military firing range near the summit of Lugnaquilla earlier in the week was a first in my walking adventures, so encountering a grotto was also a new experience. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but it certainly occupied a good view east across Brandon Bay.
After a cloudy start it was an improving day. Blue skies and views opened up as I followed the well marked path west, just below the narrowing Faha Ridge. After crossing three fences and a wall the path rounds the hill before a wonderful panorama of the SE ridge of Brandon Mountain comes into view. As the path begins to drop down into a deep glacial corrie you’re surrounded by imposing cliffs on three sides. It really is a very dramatic location and a geologist’s paradise. There’s a series of paternoster lakes and deep glacial scouring on the bare rocks.
On a clear day route finding is straightforward but to make things clearer, someone has painted large yellow arrows at strategic points so you can pick your way through the boulders to the path that winds its way up the steep back wall of the corrie.
Climbing steeply up towards Brandon’s summit ridge, you see the narrow arete of the Faha Ridge behind you. This is more of a scrambler’s route with its three distinctive notches, the final one requiring a 10-15 metre descent down a steep rock chimney.
A signpost marks the route of descent once you reach the summit ridge and from there it’s a straightforward walk along the trail to the summit itself. I managed to glimpse of the end of the Dingle Peninsula with its scattering of small settlements just before the clouds that had been scooting around the summit decided to cover it completely. I lingered for a while talking to a group of Americans who had come up from the western side, taking photos in front the obligatory summit cross.
I left the summit and walked past the signpost pointing ‘Down’ to the Pilgrim’s Path to try and find the descent to the Faha Ridge route. I was hoping to find a fairly obvious path dropping steeply down the grassy hillside somewhere east of the 891m point marked on the map. After 30 minutes of searching in the low cloud I gave up. I had no view down, didn’t fancy slipping on the now wet grass and wasn’t too keen on having to climb back up again if I’d taken the wrong route. So retracing my steps to the Pilgrim’s Path signpost I dropped down steeply into the corrie once again.
It actually didn’t take long to drop back down below the cloud base. It was a really enjoyable walk back, on another warm and sunny day. Quite a number of other walkers were out, all of whom admired the superb view over the sandy beaches and waves of Brandon Bay.
I can’t think of too many other mountains that have such a memorable view of mountain and coast. If you’re intending to climb Ireland’s highest mountains I can think of no better place to finish.
You can read my other walks of Ireland’s mountains here: