Coomloughra Horseshoe (Carrantuohill)

If you are going to climb Carrantuohill, the highest mountain in Ireland, then you really have to climb it as part of the Coomloughra Horseshoe. The big mountain itself is 1,038m high, which puts it just a couple of inches short of Snowdon (1,085m). However the starting point for the walk is quite a bit lower than that of Snowdon – we started at about 160m which gave us plenty of ascent to undertake.

Six years ago, Carmel and I spent a long weekend in Kerry. Our first challenge was Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula. We failed this after summiting in thick cloud on what we later found out was not Mt Brandon. Our next challenge was Carrantuohill. And we almost failed this too. In similarly thick cloud we could no longer see our way towards the big peak and headed off in the wrong direction (by 90 degrees) until we luckily met somebody in the mist who pointed us in the right direction and accompanied us to the appropriate summit. He then had to point us again in the correct direction so that we could get down safely. I think this was the last trip we ever went on without a suitable map, GPS device and a clearly written guide to the mountains. It is much more practical to learn lessons by trial and error.

Despite the lack of visibility and the proneness to getting ourselves quite lost, Carmel and I had enjoyed the walk immensely and were looking for the excuse to do it again. This year gave us the excuse as we met up with our old Kilimanjaro group to have a weekend catch up and walk. Nik, Neil, Tim, Jon, Carmel and I met at Stansted airport and took a flight to Kerry with the evil and spiteful monopoly that is Ryanair. At the same time, Barry drove down from Belfast. We were also joined by Simon and his daughter Victoria from Dublin. Simon had been with us earlier in the year on Aconcagua and both him and daughter were using this trip as preparation for their trip to Kilimanjaro (and Mt Meru) in July.

The Blackstones bed & breakfast we stayed in was near Glencar village, south of Killorglin. The B&B was great with really friendly hosts, big rooms and a perfect location in the middle of nowhere at the edge of picturesque river.

The biggest downside was the B&B’s remoteness which was not compatible with all members of the group having a thirst for Guinness in the nearest pub, which was about 10 mins drive away.

On the Friday night we drove into Killorglin quite late on to grab some food. By the time got there about 9:50pm the only restaurant open was Sol y Sombra – a tapas place. The food was pretty decent if nothing particularly special. Simon and Victoria joined us around 11pm having spent some time searching the town for us. Carmel had declined to take her phone with her meaning that Simon had no idea where to meet up with us. Carmel felt suitably guilty.

After a very hearty breakfast we set off to the start of the walk and were ready to take our first steps at 10:15am. The weather was very mixed – there were white clouds, black clouds, no wind, lots of wind, rain and sun. However it wasn’t cold and this meant that we were able to travel relatively light.

The first part of the walk is the trek up the concreted Hydro Track to the Coomloughra Lough. This is mercilessly steep for the first 20 mins, but means that you have very quickly gained a lot of height.

Arriving at the lake we had a choice. The horseshoe walk looped around from this point and we had to decide on doing it clockwise or anti-clockwise. The typical choice is clockwise as this provides a more gentle descent, however it also forces you to tackle the Beenkeeragh Ridge prior to arriving at Carrantuohill. The wind was ever present and occasionally extremely strong and blustery and we were a little nervous about attempting an exposed ridge in such conditions. Therefore, to ensure that we at least reached the highest peak in Ireland, we decided to go against tradition and to do the horseshoe walk anti-clockwise. This gave us the chance to summit and then reverse our steps should we not fancy taking on the Beenkeeragh Ridge.

There were three notable peaks in the walk in this order; Caher (1,001m), Carrantuohill (1,038m) and Beenkeeragh (1,010m). These were the three highest peaks in Ireland. The first we hit was Caher and this was after a long steady climb up from the lake. The path was direct and fairly relentless but meant that we got to the cairn on the top with little fuss and in good time.

From the summit here we had fantastic views of the horseshoe and our first views of the impressive looking Beenkeeragh Ridge. After a short stop and a few plaster repairs to some small blisters we headed off to Carrantuohill.

The Caher ridge runs between Caher and Carrantuohill and is a lovely section of the walk. It is fairly wide with only one side having a dangerously steep drop off. The ridge descends a little after Caher and rises again for Carrantuohill. It is not too far between the two peaks, perhaps 30 mins at most.

We arrived at Carrantuohill moments before a group of other walkers arrived from a different direction. We therefore commandeered the wind break for the 9 of us. This was quite a luxury as the wind was incredibly strong on the summit.

We had a short break as we scoffed the packed lunch provided by the B&B and posed for a few photos. We now had a choice of whether to turn around 180 degrees and head back the way we came or to carry on with the horseshoe and to traverse the Beenkeeragh Ridge. A few of us were a little wary about doing the ridge in the strong wind since we had all read it claims numerous casualties each year. However when we discovered that the relatively inexperienced group of walkers that we had beaten to the summit had arrived via that ridge route then we all felt confident that we should give it a go. If that group of old biddies could do it, then surely we could.

The ridge starts after a short, steep descent from Carrantuohill. It possibly starts with a relatively exposed path overlooking the far side of the mountain range from where we had come from. I say possibly because we don’t know. We took a wrong turn and traversed some fairly big rocks on the wrong side of the ridge. There really was no path to follow and it was a good while before we rejoined the ridge at the proper path. Nik and Tim got the blame for this. I’m sure if it was a one-off we would not have mentioned such a mistake again…

The Beenkeeragh Ridge, which we had been fearing for weeks, turned out to be a very pleasant and dramatic, but not at all scary, walk. It was plenty wide enough for us and had many rocks to cling on to if necessary. The ridge was sheltered from the day’s wind and so there really were no big difficulties facing us. We were able to enjoy the impressively steep slopes beneath each side of the ridge down to far away lakes and also the views to the 1,000m peaks at either end of the ridge.

Before we knew it we had reached the end of the ridge and it was a short ascent to the summit of Beenkeeragh. This was the final of the three notable peaks in the horseshoe and like the other two provided us with fabulous views of the other peaks, and the connecting ridges.

On top of Carrantuohill we had been accompanied by a large bunch of random oldish people who looked a little surprised at themselves having reached the summit. At the top of Beenkeeragh we caught sight of a bunch of young kids who would have looked more at home on a tropical beach than the top of a mountain. Apparently it was only our group who was taking the trek “seriously” and having all the latest climbing fashion and accessories (one group having zimmer frames and anoraks and the other having shorts and bikinis).

We felt reasonably energetic still, so for the descent we followed a ridge up and over 3 or 4 more peaks before we joined the lake again at the same point we had started the loop from. The direct path was diagonally down to the lake, but we decided to take a faint path over the remaining peaks.

It was hard to tell if the route was more exposed or if the wind had got up, but either way we were blown all over the place. Standing on the summits was quite a scary thing to do as a random blast of wind would easily knock you off your balance.

Arriving at the ascent before the last peak Neil and Barry decided they’d had enough of wind and summits and took the direct route down to the lake. The rest of us pressed on with the final peak which was conquered in minutes and gifting us amazing views back at the horseshoe.

Now the final challenge was to find the path down the steep slope from the last peak to the lake. Again Nik and Tim found themselves in the lead and again in their eagerness managed to lose the path. Instead of walking off the last peak and straight down a path to the lake they wandered away from any paths and off to the right with the rest of us following like lemmings.

We bounced over large boulders and became thigh-deep in heathers before eventually we found a little path that took us to the lake. Simon and Victoria followed a slightly different path and we had to meet them just a bit further on from the lake.

Nik and Tim will be discouraged from being near the front of the group in future.

We wandered back down the Hydro Track and to the cars. The walk had taken us 7 hours and it was now time for Guinness and crisps. We drove to the Glencar Inn (I think it was called that, but I cannot find it on any map) and drank lashings of Guinness and lager whilst munching many packets of crisps (unfortunately the pub did not sell Taytos). Carmel volunteered to drive us home so had to stick to the alcohol free stuff – poor girl.

When we arrived back at the B&B, just to highlight the splendid views that were on offer, we were treated to a double rainbow scene from the window.

For dinner we remained in the B&B, to give all of us an opportunity to relax and have a drink, and had a choice of lamb or salmon. The food was pretty decent and there was certainly no shortage of it. There was extra lamb, potatoes, chips etc. handed out at regular intervals. Pudding was a choice of apple pie or sherry trifle. Tim went for both. We polished off at least 5 bottles of wine and then retired to bed exhausted, just before midnight. You could argue whether it was the 7 hour walk or the 3 or 4 pints of Guinness before dinner, but none of us could manage a later night.

After breakfast the next day we said goodbye to Barry who was driving back to Belfast, and to Simon and Victoria who were off to Dublin. The remainder of us had a few hours to kill before our flight back to England so we took a drive to Dingle.

The weather chose to behave for an hour or two and we had coffees in the sun overlooking the new marina. Some people had some cake to go with their coffee. Tim still hungry after only having two puddings the night before went for two dishes; a bowl of ice cream and some Madeira cake.

As we headed back to the airport the conversation was about the imminent England v Germany match in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. There was high confidence that this would be the match where England decided to play well and beat Germany.

At the airport we found the bar and sat down with the rest of the English from our crappy Ryanair flight to see England trounce the Germans. However after 30 mins England’s defence had been ripped apart and they were losing 2-0. So we decided to queue up to go through security. At this point we missed two England goals – although only one was given due to the obviously terrible eyesight of the linesman who ruled out one of the goals as in his view the ball had not crossed the line.

During the second half our plane was ready for boarding. Normally there is quite a rush to board the horribly crammed Ryanair planes, but on this occasion we were quite happy to be last on if it meant watching a bit more of the match. There was just one goal between the teams and the game seemed quite open.

Happily we caught another 20 mins of goalless tension before having to board the plane. Sadly the pilot announced during the flight that England had lost 4-1. There was a loud sigh on the plane and that was our interest in the World Cup over for another four years.

Duration 7:00 hours
Distance 8.2 miles
Path (Google Earth)


Tain Way, Cooleys

Last year Carmel and I visited the Cooleys for an afternoon’s walk and parked our car next a sign telling us about the Tain Way. This is a 25 mile circular walk around the Cooley peninsula just south of the border to Northern Ireland. Legend has it that the walk has something to with a Cattle Raid route taken by age old mythical creatures. Sure.

We knew this was going to be a long day – particularly since we very rarely walk this far in a single day. However having practised a couple of weeks earlier around Monyash we were fairly confident we could do it without too much damage. What we didn’t count on was a lack of sleep and a mild hangover to start the day. This slightly sorry state of affairs was due to us spending the previous evening with a couple of Carmel’s friends, going out for an meal and then drinking until 1:30am.

The walk started for us around 8:45am near Ravendale forest. It seemed a long walk all the way from the start, maybe because the first section was about 45 mins along a straight road. We expected this, however, having made the decision to start with the most boring bit.

Once we were up in the hills though the walk became more interesting. The terrain changed many times, from pine forests to barren exposed moorland, and then back to quiet country lanes.

The half way point was Carlingford, a picturesque village that is now overrun with tourists and the resulting overly posh bistros and boutiques. The breathtaking view of Carlingford for us was from the saddle in the hills next to Carlingford Mountain. After a steady ascent up to the saddle we were greeted by fabulous views of Carlingford village and off into Carlingford Loch just beyond.

We descended into Carlingford for an ice cream and realised as we got closer that we passed the first walkers of the day. Over 25 miles we saw no other walkers except at Carlingford, and it is worth pointing out that the Tain Way appeared to be only 1 of 2 sign-posted walks in the whole area. Very different to the UK which seems to have old battered footpath signs everywhere.

The weather behaved itself but never relaxed itself into being a beautiful sunny day. After walking alongside Carlingford Loch for a while, the final leg of the walk was back up over the mountains, passing the summit of Black Mountain. This final mountain is well known to the locals because it houses the TV transmitter for Dundalk, but mostly because it accessible by road making it very popular with those who choose not to get to the summit under their own steam.

We finished the 25 mile walk around 6:30pm being pretty tired. We’d started tired and ended in a slightly worse state, but this was progress. I had hobbled around the last few miles for the similar length walk in Monyash and felt much better for this one. We were pleased with ourselves for doing the long walk in one day, and then remembered that marathons are the same length and involve running. Maybe it isn’t so impressive then – but at least we got an ice cream and didn’t have to wear a vest.

Duration 9:24 hours
Distance 25.7 miles
Path (Google Earth)