Evocatively named hills, high passes and long descents, a stone circle between two lakes and a surprise ending.
I wake to find the hilltops around Lauragh capped by cloud but my hosts advise that it will burn off and the forecast is good. They also tell me that the first 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) of the route is a steep road section and that most hikers take their offer of a lift to Drombohilly to avoid it. I hesitate, but am persuaded to accept, and in hindsight, I am glad that I did because even with the shorter distance, this proves to be a physically arduous route with two long, steep ascents.
From Drombohilly the route ascends for 2 kilometres over rough ground up to the pass at 300 meters. It’s slow going over the maze of sheep-tracks, long grasses and rocky outcrops and I make frequent stops to find the path, catch my breath and take in the stunning views. It’s cool and quiet with only a couple of choughs breaking the silence with their distant calls and I am ringed by the high ridges of Knockreagh (An Cnoc Riabhach “The Grey/Brindled Hill”) and Knockagarrane (Cnoc an Ghearráin “Hill of the Grove”) ahead and the peaks of Knockanoughanish (Cnoc an Uaignis “Hill of the Solitude”), Knockbeg (“Little Hill”) and Knockatee (Cnoc an tSí “Hill of the Fairy Mound”) 1 behind me with Kenmare Bay beyond. Thin cloud drifts along the ridge and patches of sunlight stroke the hillsides.
Once over the summit, the view is amazing: loughs Cloonie and Inchaquin with Uragh stone circle perfectly placed between them set against the backdrop of Knocknagorraveela (Cnoc na gCorrmhíolta “Hill of the Midges”).
Uragh stone circle has a remarkably similar configuration to Cashelkeelty which I passed yesterday: a massive monolith next to a small stone ‘circle’. There are several tourists here and one family is hugging the stones to ‘feel the energies’. I sit on a rock to conserve mine and make a sketch.
A long slow climb up a small road leads out of Uragh with wide views across the lough to the waterfall at the head of the Inchiquin valley. After a shallow ford the path leads more steeply up to another high pass. The ground at the top is very boggy and boardwalks have been laid in places but it is still a squelchy stretch. Once over the top, a long green descent lays before me leading down to the wooded coastline of Kenmare Bay in the distance. Cloud is moving over the hills on the far side of the bay and spots of rain come and go as I begin the descent. A lost lamb bleats pitifully above me and its cries follow me for a long while. I take a late lunch by the remains of a hut circle.
Onto a twisting road that follows the Dromoughty River down towards the bay and the air is humid. Just before the road joins the coast road along the north side of the Beara peninsula, the route takes a side turning. I am tired after four days walking and the steep hill is not what I need as it climbs up past modern mansions occupying huge plots of land and the road seems to go on forever. The posh houses have posh dogs who bark annoyingly.
As I join the main road again, there are workmen with JCBs clearing trees and ditches. The waymarker post has been knocked down and it is difficult to tell which way it is pointing: along the main road or down a path through woodland bordering the wide river? I take the quieter option but the path soon becomes obscured by fallen trees and brambles; several dead ends lead only into the water. It’s dark under the trees and the eerie cries of Curlews carry up from the river. Finally I find a path that leads somewhere and, eventually, coming up through bushes and brambles, suddenly find myself back on the road. Herself is parked right there in a lay-by, expecting me to have come the other way along the road. We are both as surprised as each other as I emerge from the undergrowth!
18.5km (11.5 miles) in 5.5 hours
- For the Irish translation of mountain names I have used Paul Tempan’s ‘Irish Mountain Placenames‘ (pdf file, 1.74 MB)