Saturday, 6 July 2013

Claragh, Caherbarna and the Paps

Friday July 5th;

I decided to take advantage of the good weather and set off yesterday afternoon on the train as far as Millstreet with the intention of heading up into the mountains and having a wild-camping experience. One of my aims is to walk from Millstreet as far as the Atlantic, staying high and wild practically the whole way and carrying my tent and all my food etc. I reckon it will take about 5 or 6 days and if I get the weather it will be one of the best hikes I will have done to date. This time however I didn't have the time to do the whole route but I opted to have a taste of the first couple of days. The plan was to go over Claragh and on to Caherbarna and eventually climb The Paps and then return to Rathmore and get the train home. SO in glorious sunshine I left the train at 13.50 and set off for the long walk into town where the very pretty Claragh rises gently behind. I don't know why but a lot of train stations in Ireland are a considerable distance outside the town and here I had to walk for a couple of kilometers just to reach the town and another 10 minutes and I was at the start of the route up Claragh.
Claragh and Caherbarna beyond

Claragh is a lovely walk

Beautiful "Bog Cotton"
By the "Grotto" you turn left and enter a magical little shady lane that rises steadily through woodland. After a while a right turn takes you through some fir trees and then an open trail traverses the slope and offers great views eastward to Mushera and beyond to my home patch of Mt Hillary. There is more than a grain of truth in the saying that Ireland, when the sun shines is one of the most beautiful places on earth and today it was living up to its billing. The problem is getting the sun to shine. Soon you enter the open mountain and it doesn't take long to reach the summit at 452 meters. There are some masts on the top but it is easy to ignore these as the whole of north Cork and Kerry is laid out below you. It is a great spot to rest a while and soak up the views and sunshine. I was now six kilometers into my hike and I had a long way to go so I didn't delay too long and turned my gaze west and set off for the distant Caherbarna. First there is a lengthy descent to the col and then steadily rise up boggy wet ground to the flat expanse of Curracahill and next contour around above the picturesque Kippagh Lough. Things then rise steadily towards Stoukeen.

Looking down to Millstreet

Caherbarna is still a long way off

Sign of the times
One of the most disappointing  aspects of hillwalking in Ireland is the occasional problems that you encounter with access. Here at the start of the climb to Stoukeen there is a prominent sign denying access to the land ahead. I really don't know why some farmers do this but I suspect it has more to do with greed and farm subsidies than any great desire to protect privacy or landscape. Anyway I had come too far to turn back now and I ignored the warning and continued on my way. The landscape is a vast area of blanket bog that sweeps southwards until it rises again at Mullachanish which is topped by a gigantic communications mast. One thing that is hard to ignore is the large windfarm that stretches for three kilometers from Gneeves. It is without doubt spectacular but whether it is necessary or not I will leave others to decide. I was also keeping an eye out for the landowner as I didn't really want to have any conflict or arguments. Its a pity to have to think of such things when you are out in the wilds. Pretty and all as blanket bog is it does make for tough going. Every step is hard earned and the constant soft ground sucks the energy from the legs. Eventually I reached the broad wet summit of Caherbarna, about eight kilometers from Claragh. I could now see the Paps and also the route down to where I hoped to set up my tent at the col before Knocknabro. The ground didn't exactly get any easier on the way down and I had to cross boggy pitted heathery ground before I reached the col. It did however make it all the sweeter to find a dry grassy patch alongside a stream where I was able to drop my bag and set about setting up camp. It was now 18.40 so I had been on the go for nearly 5 hours and I was ready for a good rest and a bite to eat. After dinner I went to have a look at the lovely waterfall nearby that was now somewhat anemic after the dry weather but it is still a lovely spot. I then relaxed and later watched the sun set before finally tucking into my tent for a well deserved sleep.
Towards "The Paps" from Caherbarna

Wild camping at its best

A beautiful cascade

A nice view to end the day

Saturday July 6th;

I slept fitfully at best and I was still a bit weary when I got up this morning. There was a brisk breeze blowing and a fair bit of low cloud about. I had porridge for breakfast and I was all packed up and on the move at 07.45. It was quite chilly but I soon warmed up on the pull to the broad flat top of Knocknabro. The ground continued in the same vein as yesterday and my tired legs wondered why I was here doing this when I could have been at home tucked up in bed on a Saturday morning like most people, but I got over my self pity and continue on. After the unnamed top of 592 meters there followed a long drop to Lough Glannafreaghaun which sits prettily under the eastern side of the Paps. Bad ground soon got worse and I found myself threading very carefully down through long heather and bouldery slopes that is my least favorite terrain. It would be so easy to have a lapse and twist an ankle or worse. Anyway I eventually reached the lake and here I started on the 450 meter climb to the first summit. Oh boy my legs were tired. I guess I still hadn't recovered from the excellent but tough run from the week before or perhaps I am just getting old but I struggled on the way up and had to stop many times. From the first summit I dropped down to the col and here I left my bag and climbed the 100 meter pull to the western summit. I was now hungry as well so I didn't delay in returning to my bag and I set off down. The ground was consistent anyway but eventually I reached the lake again and here I cooked another bite to eat. The cloud of earlier had long since burned off and it was now quite warm. It was great to sit for a while and the noodles were just what I needed as I was now faced with a 9.5 kilometer walk on the road to reach Rathmore and get my train home.I was also getting a bit tight for time so I set a brisk pace and arrived in the station with just a few minutes to spare at 13.45. So despite the fatigue I had covered 18 kilometers in just about 6 hours. Home beckoned and a shower and a good rest.
Less than glorious first thing

Near the Paps

From the summit towards Killarney

Impressive Cairns

The Reeks and Killarney

Back at the lake

Beautiful lanes

Rural idyll

How the Paps were ever associated with the goddess Danu I will never know

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