Friday, 7 August 2020

Camping in Castletownbere.

Friday September 31st;

I normally avoid heading to touristy places during very busy periods if I can, but last weekend, due to a reasonable weather forecast, and an itch to head away, I made an exception. I wanted to try somewhere I hadn't stayed before so after a bit of searching I chose the campsite at Berehaven Golf Club. This is about 30 kilometres further west than Glengarriff and would allow me to more easily explore the furthest reaches of this most beautiful of peninsulas.

I headed down on Friday afternoon so as to enjoy a nice relaxing evening, before going for a cycle on Saturday. I arrived into the pretty little golf course at around 5pm and discovered that the little camping area was nearly full. Four large family tents were already in situ and these took up most of the space. There was room for my little tent but I knew that things would be far from peaceful. There was another area for tents further to the left but this was pretty sodden after the heavy rain of the previous day so reluctantly I settled for the busy area. The evening resounded with the boisterous playing of about 12 kids and later the carousal of the parents. It wasn't that bad really, but I guess I am just becoming an old curmudgeon. There is a small stony beach below the clubhouse and I took the opportunity to "enjoy" a chilled soak in the flat calm waters. While I was in the water some whitebait were being hunted just a few feet away and when I dunked my head under water I could see several small fish flash by below me. I explored a couple of the holes near the clubhouse and I must say they look very nice, especially the 8th, which is over 140 metres and is almost entirely over water. Very spectacular. I actually wished that I had brought a few clubs with me. I settled down to an enjoyed the evening despite the distractions. Good phone signal meant I could enjoy YouTube.

Saturday August 1st;

I was looking forward to today. The Beara Peninsula offers some of the best and most spectacular cycling route that are to be found anywhere. The last time I was down in this neck of the woods I cycled from Glengarriff over the Healy Pass, to Kenmare, over the Caha pass and back. Today I was going to head to Allihies, Eyeries and return over the Healy Pass from the north. The western extremities of the peninsula must be one of my most favourite places and I was really looking forward to returning there. It helped of course that the weather was also playing ball. There had been some showers and some were still to be seen on the hills, but it was mostly blue skies and the wind was not too bad.
Looking back to Castletownbere

The cycling initially is easy. Flat roads lead into and out of Castletownbere and soon you are pedaling through beautiful wild countryside. One thing that would help is if they would re-surface the street through the town. It is butt bruisingly rough. The first challenge is the hill that rises gently at Gour. Here about 130 metres of height is gained but the increasingly wonderful views are ample compensation for the effort. The view back towards Castletownbere and the bulk of Hungry hill is beautiful and up here the blue sea and rugged shore compete for your attention. I took the opportunity for a brief stop so as to really enjoy the view. Next comes a beautiful gentle descent that comes ever nearer to the sea as you head west. The breeze was directly into me so some effort was required to make good progress. After 5 kilometres you reach the crashing shore at Cahermore and then a gentle climb gradually rises to the pass above Allihies. This gains another 80 or so metres but what a spot to stop and enjoy the stunning scenery laid out beyond. Rugged shore, rugged hills, distant mountains and islands rising from the sea. It is simply wonderful. Mind you some rain was also to be seen and I caught the edge of a shower as I neared the pretty village of Allihies. It was a brief affair and soon I was enjoying blue skies again.

After the descent from the pass, the short but steep climb into the village comes as something of a shock but it is soon over. The next four kilometres are just gorgeous. A narrow but well surfaced road twists and turns along by the shore and is a wild and wonderful experience. Next comes a steep climb that had me struggling to simply keep moving. At times the gradient is very steep and overall almost 100 metres is gained. I managed to stay on the bike but it really tired me out. At the top you pass through a rocky notch and you head down to a beautiful bay at Gortahig. The scene is gorgeous but some care is required, as the road is steep and twisted. The respite is short lived though, and you are faced with another 100 metre climb that I found very hard on my already tired legs. Once at the crest I stopped for a few minutes to recover and soak in the view. Thankfully the remaining route as far as Lauragh had no big hills and I made reasonable progress. The stretch between Eyeries and Ardgroom being particularly lovely.

When I reached Lauragh I was already pretty spent, so I was fairly dreading tackling the Healy Pass. At the start of the day I had thought that I might take the coast road from here and then return to Lauragh over the pass on the main road and then do the Healy Pass. That would have added twenty kilometres and over 200 metres to the day, but the way I was feeling, that was out of the question. After a rest and a bite to eat, I bowed to the inevitable and turned towards the pass. Before too long the climbing begins and I was down in the bottom gear, just willing the kilometres to pass. They did, slowly but eventually I rose up into the wild open mountainside. Glorious and all as the day and scenery was, I was hardly enjoying it. I suffered practically the whole way and the final few hundred steeper metres at the top turned my legs to jelly. I got there though and on the descent on the far side I was able to recover a fair bit. Once down in Adrigole, I was once again riding into the breeze, but I was now on the homeward stretch. That stretch seemed to stretch on for a long while but eventually I reached the turnoff to the campsite and I coasted back to the tent. I was very tired and glad to dismount. The first thing I did was simply sit awhile in my chair and relaxed. A brew and another bite to eat restored me somewhat and a little later I went and had a good swim the the sea. I was delighted to have completed the cycle and the rigours and efforts were receding in the memory.
Over 82 kilometres, 1040 metres climbing in just under four hours.

Sunday August 2nd;

The weather this morning was even better than yesterday and the  first order of business was to put on some sunscreen. I was excited about today. I had decided to enjoy a hike on Hungry Hill and ascend via the southwest ridge. It must have been over ten years since I last went up the mountain on this route. It offers a nice scramble up a series of rock bands. Some of these are vertical and have to be avoided but some offer excellent sport. I had contemplated leaving the car where it was and walking directly from the campsite but it would have meant a five kilometre walk on the road at the start so I drove instead. The verges of the roadways in the area are a riot of colour at the moment. Fuchsia, montbretia, meadow sweet and loosestrife give a glorious display and it is a pleasure to see. When I reached the end of the little lane I parked discreetly and set off into the wild.
And wild it certainly is. The amount of steep rock on display makes this a special mountain. The southwest ridge is right in front of you and it looks great. I followed the track in past the small lake and after climbing a little ways I was able to scramble up the first section to the crest of the ridge. From there it is a matter of climbing what you fancy and detouring around some of the difficult bits. The scenery just keeps getting better and better. Below and to the west, Bere Island lies and the little town of Castletownbere nestles under the hills that stretch to the end of the peninsula. To the left the savage rocky ground swoops down from the summit across towards Knocknagree. The many rock bands along here would make finding an early descent from that ridge difficult. I made good progress and enjoyed a few spicy scrambles on the way up. As I said, some sections are vertical and would pose difficulties to very good rock climbers but by picking your options carefully some great sport can be enjoyed. I recall on one occasion over 10 years ago, telling the doyenne of Killarney Mountaineering Club, the incorrigible Tim Long, that the section he was attempting looked very "fallableoffable", much to his amusement.
The rather wonderful southwest ridge

Pick a route (carefully) and enjoy

To the west

All too soon the broad boggy summit plateau is reached, but what a thrill to relax a while and simply soak in the views.On a calm, sunny day such as this there are few places finer to be. The clarity in the air was great and I could see the mountains stretching all the way to Caherbarna and beyond. The Iveragh peninsula competed with the closer hills and the inlets of Kenmare and Bantry bays shone blue. I was loving it. The main summit (682 metres) is just 6 or 7 hundred metres away and I headed across the bog to that.Then an easy descent to the northwest sees you reach the rugged broad ridge that leads to Knocknagree. I say it is easy, and it was on a good visibility day like I had, but in the mist and cloud, then care would have to be taken to avoid dropping down too early into some complex ground. Once on the ridge, things don't get too much easier. There follows a constant series of up and down little steps that are forced on you by water, bog and rock strata that always seem to block the way. It is complex and enjoyable. Just don't be in too much of a hurry. After reaching a couple of small pretty little lakes there follows a steep pull to the summit of Knocknagree (586 metres). Up here is a great vantage point to look back and admire the bulk of Hungry Hill. It was here I saw my first soul of the day. An Asian gentleman who was wearing a large sunhat (the kind with the big visor in front) and a net covering the face.
Heading to Knocknagree

Looking back from Maulin

Next up comes Maulin. The ground becomes easier after Knocknagree and an easy descent to a boggy col if followed by a slog up to the broad summit (621 metres). A final pause to admire the expansive views before I dropped easily into the glen in the southeast where I joined a farm track. The Beara Way trail crosses this track and once I reached it I turned and followed it back to my car. On the way I met a young man who was nearing the finish of the Way. He informed me that he hadstarted his hike in Limerick and walked to Tralee. He then completed the Dingle Way before also completing the Kerry Way. Now he was almost after completing the Beara Way and to finish he was going to continue and complete the Sheeps Head Way. What a super effort that would be. Over 700 kilometres is required to do that lot. A proper long distance hike for sure. I enjoyed the walk back to the car and once again I was able to enjoy the full might of Hungry Hill as the trail goes deep into the valley on its western flanks.

I arrived back to the car  5 hours 30 mins after setting off. 18 kilometres covered and 1230 metres climbed..The dip in the sea a short while later felt delicious. 

Monday August 3rd;

I was heading home today, but before that I was keen to get another hike in. It was another lovely morning so I decided to head to the north side of the peninsula and do the iconic Cumeengeera Horseshoe. This is another gem of an outing and it forms a beautiful natural circuit around the wild and rugged Rábach Glen. I drove around to Lauragh and followed the long narrow lane to its end and set off into the glen at 10.25. A lovely easy start along a good trail see you enter the wild and rugged glen and after a short pull you reach the crest of a spur coming from the left and the full extent of the glen is revealed. On a benign day such as this it was simply beautiful. In bad weather it becomes bleak and savage. A short drop to the easily forded river and then the real climb starts. A steep 250 metres up through the rock bands allows for some scrambling and after that the angle eases back a little and easier ground leads to the summit of Tooth Mountain (592 metres). What a lovely spot to stop and admire the view. The entire Iveragh Peninsula is on show to the north and of course you are in the heart of the Beara so what is local is equally stunning. 
Entering the glen

Wonderful wild ground and some scrambling can be enjoyed
The going is pretty easy from here on. A gentle drop and rise see you reach Coomacloghane (599 metres) which is adorned by a trig point. A slightly more awkward descent follows to reach the pass that leads towards Eskaterriff and it is easy to get sucked in to descending too far to the west. It would not be a major problem but it would add to the height that needed to be climbed. The long curved ridge to Eskatarriff (601 metres) is on broad boggy ground. Up here you are right at the furthest point from the car, so from here on you are on the homeward stretch. A drop of over 100 metres and a short climb sees you reach Eskatarriff East Top with its super looking rock arret that could be a climbers dream (or nightmare). A final 150 metre climb sees you reach the last top at Lacabane (603 metres) which is followed by a nice airy walk along the ridge before a steep 250mtr descent to a wide gully which descends back to the valley floor. Once down I crossed the very wet ground, full of bog myrtle, to reach the trail I had walked at the start. A short walk back to the car followed and it was all over. 
Looking towards The Reeks


It had been 4 hours 20 minutes of pure pleasure. 12 kilometres covered and almost 1100 metres climbed. 
It had been a delightful end to the weekend. I was a happy boy on the drive home. The Beara delivered yet again.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

A Fine Round on The Galtees and The East Reeks

Monday July 20th;

I have enjoyed a few little breaks away since lockdown eased but one place I had neglected to visit was the Galtees. I was determined to put that right today and I headed to the excellent Kings Yard and the aim was a big round from Temple Hill to Galtymór.

To say I picked a good day for it would be an understatement. It was warm and sunny and even the ground underfoot was pretty dry. I left Kings Yard and headed up into the glen under Monabrack. The mountains were looking resplendent and I was looking forward to immersing myself in them. The steep 300 metre climb to the summit of Monabrack got the heart pumping but the wonderful views were adequate compensation for the effort. I was feeling very good and before long I was down in the next valley under Knockaterriff and setting off up the equally steep 350 metre climb to reach the broad boggy top. The breeze on the summit was blessedly cooling and after a brief rest I headed for Temple Hill. This mountain will always be a special place for me, as it was the very first mountain I climbed. Way back when, a friend called Pascal Sweeney took me on a hill walk to this summit. It was a miserable cloudy, wet day, and I saw nothing in the way of views and got thoroughly soaked, but I was hooked. I returned a few weeks later on my own, on a beautiful summers day, and I was blown away by the views and the whole experience. I can still recall my joy and amazement as I rested on the summit, as I gazed in wonder at the landscape all about.
Heading into the glen under Monabrack

Galtymór looms above the summit.

Summit of Temple Hill

Towards the Knockmealdowns and more

Anyway, back to today. Once I reached the stony top, with its massive cairn, I rested and enjoyed a quick bite to eat, before dropping back to the col and heading up to one of the best viewing points in the range, Lyracappul. The metres climbed were certainly adding up by now but I was still feeling good and I really enjoyed the walk along the ridge to Galtymór. While I had been in blissful solitude up to now, as expected, as I neared this 3000ft+ peak, I began to meet some fellow hikers. It is rare enough to have such a benign day on this summit, so I took a moment to enjoy the wonderful views. From here you can see the hills of Clare on the far side of the Shannon estuary. The Reeks and the Slieve Mish mountains in Kerry were clear to the west. The Blackstairs Mountains were visible way off to the northeast ans the sea shone silver to the south. I contemplated dropping down towards the confluence of streams in the valley below, and heading back to the car, but I decided to continue as far as Galtybeg. This added nearly a 100mtrs ascent to the day, but sure why not. I  dropped to the valley and followed the fledgling Attrchran river as far as the forestry. Here at the confluence of the streams there are some very pretty little waterfalls with adjacent pools. It seemed a shame to waste the opportunity so I went for a quick dip in one. It was deliciously refreshing. I rebooted and suited myself, and before too long I was back at the car.
Looking west to Temple Hill


A lovely spot for a dip

With 20 kilometres covered, 1550 metres climbed and six hours of sunshine soaked up, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable day. 

Sunday July 26th;

After my great day out on the Galtees I was keen to have another good mountain day. Where better to head to than The Reeks. With that in mind I headed back and camped at Cronins Yard on the Saturday evening, so that I could have a nice early start the following day. I intended to do a full circuit of the Hags Glen. The camping was pretty much idyllic as I sat outside my tent and watched the light change into the evening on the East Reeks. Alas the good times weren't to last as I was awoken by rain the following morning and when I peered out I could see that a stiff wind was scudding the cloud across the tops. It was disappointing but I got myself ready and headed off in hope of improvements in the weather later. I decided that I would head to Alohart and climb up to Cruach Mhór from there. This would extend the circuit a little bit but it offers something out of the norm as well.The ground was wet and sodden on the traverse under Cruach Mhór and it leeched the spirit out of me. Just before I reached the crest of the ridge near Alohart I suddenly decided to take a direct line to the summit from there. I'm not sure why, because it meant a steep 500 metre climb to reach the top. I guess I had had enough of the soggy ground.
An idyllic evening for camping

Not so nice in the morning

A brief clearing..still a bit of magic

Always spectacular

The climb was actually okay and before too long I was standing in the clag on the rather bleak summit. I was surprised by how chilly the wind was and I had to don hat and gloves. The rocks on the ridge were very slippery and some care had to be taken to make safe progress. I stuck to the path on either side and eventually reached the top of Cnoc na Péiste. Now the mist and drizzle turned to rain and things became something of a chore. That said, I really enjoyed the easy walking all the way to Cnoc an Cuillin. There was no let up in the weather and when I reached Cnoc na Toinne I decided to cut my losses and descend via the Zig Zags. Even though the weather was poor I was surprised by the numbers I met heading for Carrauntoohil. It really does draw the crowds nowadays. I returned to the car and was glad to change out of my soaked clothes. A great coffee in the swish new tea rooms helped revive me and I was soon heading home. It hadn't been the hike I had hoped for but it certainly blew away the cobwebs. 14 kilometres covered, 1200 metres climbed in just 5 hours.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Cycling the Connor Pass and A Hike up Brandon.

Thursday July 16th;

I went to the Dingle Peninsula a while back to enjoy a couple of days in one of my favourite places, Cloghane. I took my bike again and the plan was to have a big old cycle and the following day go for a hike on Brandon. I had looked at staying in Castlegregory but when I tried to book a spot for my tent I discovered that the three caravan/camping parks were booked through until the end of August. I rang O'Connors guesthouse in Cloghane, who have a basic little camping area behind the house, and I was in luck. I booked in for the night and set off west.

On the way back the weather deteriorated and for several miles the cloud was right down and it was blowing a heavy drizzle. I very nearly turning around as there didn't seem much point in going all that way and not being able to enjoy anything in the way of a view. As I approached Castleisland the skies lightened and suddenly I emerged beyond the poor weather and it was mostly blue skies to the west. All doubts were gone and I continued on my way. I decided to park at the supermarket in Castlegregory and begin my cycle from there. My plan was to cycle back to Camp and from there take the mountain road that skirts under Caherconree, and follow this as it descends to the southern shore of the peninsula east of Inch. From there I would go as far as Dingle and then over the Connor Pass and back to my car. It was a beautiful warm sunny day when I set off at 11.40. A mostly flat road and a following wind made the first 9 kilometres lovely and easy. Once I turned off the main road towards Camp the hills arrived. Two phone calls arrived while I was heading up the hill, and while I was glad of the break, it is a bitch trying to start off on a steep slope. Once past the village, a lovely undulating few kilometres follow until you reach the serious climbing. It is very steep in places for short bursts before you climb up into open mountain scenery, where the mighty Caherconree looms above you. It is beautiful but the hill that most catches the eye is the terribly steep section of road that leads to the crest of the pass. It is not very long ( perhaps 200 metres) but with a gradient of over 20% I knew it was well beyond my abilities to pedal up it. I dismounted and actually struggled to walk up it in the bike shoes.

It would be hard to crowd the vast expanse of Inch Beach
A rest for a drink and a chance to soak up the views before I set off on the descent. The descent was fairly steep and the narrow road was quite rough, so I had to keep a tight rein on the speed which had my grip aching by the time I reached the Dingle road. It was something of a relief to reach level ground but my relief was short lived as I turned directly into the wind and of course there was now quite a bit of traffic. Still, I was in no hurry and I just pedaled in gear I could manage. The sand dunes at Inch were a long time getting near but eventually I reached the busy beach resort. The next 5 kilometres is without doubt one of the most lovely roads in the country. You gradually rise to  over 40 metres above the ocean and the views across the water to the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula is a delight. Just before the road turned inland I was treated to the sight of Gannets diving for fish close to shore. Once I reached the Tralee Dingle road the next 6 kilometres is surprisingly hilly. It is fair to say that I wasn't in the best of form and things were all a bit of a struggle but the final stretch into Dingle offered some easier going. Next up was the Grade 2 climb over the Connor Pass. I didn't know whether I was looking forward to it or dreading it..most likely a bit of both.

Looking towards Brandon from the Connor Pass
Once I skirted the busy little town I reached the road for the pass. It isn't too steep with a fairly consistent gradient of around 6%. Normally I would be okay on a slope like this but today I was finding it increasingly hard. After a couple of kilometres the ground becomes wilder and the gradient increases by perhaps a percent. I had to put the bike into the lowest gear and even then I struggles to keep going. I would love to say that the next four kilometres were a lot of fun but I suffered. At long last I saw a sign for the final 500 metres and I knew I would make it. At the pass I dismounted and took a ten minute break before setting off on the long descent towards Castlegregory. Initially the road  is very narrow and twisting but after a kilometre the road widens and with a good surface I was able to made swift progress. It was all easy cycling as far as Castlegregory but I was still very relieved to dismount by the car. It was sunny and warm and I basked in a day well spent. The rigours of the day melted away as I later went for a swim in the nearby Maherees and after relaxing for a while I felt recovered. I drove to Cloghane and enjoyed an idyllic evening in the sun and just relaxed.

Towards Slievanea from the campsite

Mine was the smaller tent

If you are going for a dip there are worse places.
The cycle had covered  74 kilometres, climbed over 1100 metres and taken me almost 4 hours.

Friday July 17th;

The plan for today was to get a decent hike in on the Brandon hills. The forecast was for rain to arrive in the early afternoon so I had hoped that I would get to enjoy some of the mountains before it arrived. Well, the rain had arrived during the night and it brought a stiff wind with it. A big day on the mountains didn't hold much appeal this morning and I even contemplated returning home without doing any hiking at all. Some sense prevailed and I decided to do a quick up and down of Brandon itself. I drove up as far as the car park near the grotto and set off in the clag and rain. It is a straightforward trail and with nothing like a view to distract me I just plodded along. The steep section up above the paternoster lakes wasn't too bad but when I topped out onto the main ridge not far from the 952 metre summit, the wind carried large drops of rain that arrived horizontally and with speed and stung my face. It most certainly didn't feel like high summer. A quick up and back from the summit and I reentered the relative shelter of the descent to the lakes. Down and ever down and I was like a drenched rat by the time I got back to the car. My Rab Latoc jacket isn't proving very waterproof these days and I think I will have to get a new hard shell. That is for another time though. It took me 2 hours 50 mins to cover the 9 kilometres and 830 metres ascent. It was great to put on some dry clothes.
About as much as was to be seen all day.