The mountains of southwest Ireland hold many treats for the hiker looking for a great day out, and none more so than Purple Mountain, (An Sliabh Corca), a superb peak on the boundary of the Killarney National Park, in County Kerry.

The mountain has twin summits, joined by an impressively narrow and rocky ridge, studded with cairns and with precipitous drops either side.

High on its flanks lie steep scree slopes of broken rock, red sandstones shattered by millennia of frosty winters, which give the mountain its name.

 

The misty summit of Purple Mountain, take care when the cloud is low!

 

Purple Mountain has two satellite peaks, Tomies to the north and Shehy to the east, both are only a little lower in height, and attached to the parent mountain by broad cols.

 

Though not a giant, (it stands at 830 metres or 2723 ft), Purple Mountain offers stunning all round views.

To the north is the large and impressive Lough Leane with its scattered small islands, like so many green jewels set in the silver and blue waters.

To the south the mountain descends rapidly to the Black Valley, which lies almost at sea level and is surrounded by a phalanx of it’s own steep sided mountains.

To the west lies the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow glacial valley, with inaccessible ramparts of rock and cascading streams.

 

A narrow road runs into the 5 kilometre long Gap, which is a popular destination for tourists, who often take in the sights in horse drawn carriages known locally as ‘jaunting cars’.

Beyond the Gap rise the narrow ridges and stunning peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, here are the highest mountains in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, Cather and Beenkeragh, and the views across to this wonderful multi-peaked range are magnificent.

 

A traverse of this fine mountain is best undertaken from north to south, this gives the easier and more gradual ascent, whilst giving the best views of the valleys and mountains to the south in descent.

 

Looking south from Purple Mountain towards the Black Valley, with the Gap of Dunloe below us.

 
If travelling by car, park at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, here there is a carpark, cafe and facilities.  Head back down the road and take the first right into a narrow lane, at the end of which is a gate into farm land. Follow the obvious track and some waymarking arrows to gain a low ridge that rises to the right.

 

Once on the ridge head uphill on a muddy footpath that becomes a narrow sheep path. Continue ahead onto a rounded hill immediately north of Tomies mountain, from here the path can be followed up onto Tomies, the summit of which has a large cairn and a circular rock built shelter to protect hikers from the elements. Head due south across a broad col and on to Purple Mountain itself.

(Be aware that in low cloud the way ahead is rocky and by no means clear and you will need a map and compass and the ability to use them).

 

Descending towards Lough Glas

 

The lofty summit ridge of Purple is a great place to have lunch on a fine day, take shelter next to one of its three large cairns.

Take time to enjoy the superb views as you descend Purple Mountain, following a narrow path that leads down to the secretive and tranquil setting of Lough Glas. Stop here to reflect on its natural beauty before continuing down the rocky and rugged path to reach the Head of the Gap.

This is the highest point reached on the Gap of Dunloe road and here you should head north down the road and back towards the start point.

 

As you walk, take time to look at the impressive rock walls and the tumbling water, and to enjoy the series of small loughs that occupy the valley. Soon it will widen out to rough pasture and a few scattered dwellings before you find yourself back at the busy cafes and car park.

 

Gap of Dunloe.

 

The hike will take approximately 6 hours; has 890 metres of ascent and covers a distance of approximately 16 kilometres.

As with any hiking, check the weather forecast before you go, and consider an alternative day if the weather is very windy and the clouds are low.

Suggested map: OSI Adventure Series – Macgillycuddy’s Reeks 1:25000

 

Heading towards Beenkeragh
On a hot summers day in June, a few days before the summer solstice, I hiked a popular route in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a compact but stunning range of mountains in the southwest of Ireland.  This circular route is known as the Coomloughra Horseshoe.
The hike is around 12 km ( 8 miles), with 1300 metres (4265 ft.), of total ascent in the day, and goes over the summits of the three highest mountains in Ireland; Carrauntoohil, Beenkeragh and Caher.
At 1040 metres Carrauntoohil is not a huge mountain, but its high crags rise from near sea level, and give it an imposing air more typical of mountains on the west coast of Scotland.
The impressive Carrauntoohil
The circuit takes in the Beenkeragh Ridge, a short but narrow and exposed traverse that connects the two highest peaks. Though not technically difficult, this ridge can prove a challenge for those not used to the exposure.
I had planned to do the traverse in a clockwise direction, and started at the car park below the ‘hydro road’, from here there is a steady climb to reach Lough Eighter.
Looking up to my left, I started the pull up to the first top, the minor one of Cnoc Iochtair at 747m. From here it was onto Skregmore, the faint path a mix of soft, springy grass and scattered blocky boulder fields.  This presaged the steep, rocky, and
The Beenkeragh Ridge
sometimes scrambling ascent of Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second highest mountain at 1010m.
A short but steep descent over similar bouldery ground and I am at the start of the Beenkeragh Ridge. The ridge is several hundred metres long, an undulating narrow traverse punctuated by blocky rock obstacles, and with considerable exposure on either side.
In wet and windy weather this is a route to treat with care and respect, but today was dry and very warm, with little wind, and the traverse was a real delight.
Beenkeragh Ridge can be a bit exposed
At the end of the ridge I joined a well worn path that comes up from the Hags Glen to the north, a route known as O’Shea’s, as it climbs through a gully of the same name. From here I followed the rocky and scree strewn trail up to the top of Ireland, Carrauntoohil, an imposing mountain with steep crags on its’ northern and eastern faces.
The summit is marked by a large cross, maybe 4 metres high, that in good weather can be seen from the valleys below.
There were perhaps a half a dozen people at the summit, the first folk I had seen all morning. All the more remarkable as it was such a benign and beautiful day.
Carrauntoohil summit cross
Caher
From the summit the route descends and flattens out to a pleasant path that follows the edge of the crags that mark the head of the valley. It soon begins to rise again on the approach to Caher, the third of the three peaks over 1000m. The relatively gentle eastern slopes are in stark contrast to the almost sheer drop of 400m on the northern side, this valley having been carved out of the mountain by ice, some 10,000 years ago.

From here the views are stunning, both toward the mountains, to Carrauntoohil and the eastern Reeks, but also to the northwest where the horizon is drawn by the hazy line of the mountains of the Dingle peninsular.
Between me and the mountains of Dingle the blue sea shimmers and glistens in the bright sunlight, with the golden yellow sand-bars exposed by the retreating tide.

The final act of this grand performance is the minor top of Caher West, which marks the end of the horseshoe.
All that remains is the relatively easy descent down a broad grassy ridge back to Lough Eighter, and the return journey on the hydro road track.
Beenkeragh and Carrauntoohil from Caher
Looking towards the Dingle peninsular
The Coomloughra Horseshoe
So, is this the best ridge walk in Ireland?
I will leave you come and decide for yourselves, but it’s certainly up there with the best of them, and if you are ever down in that part of Ireland I would recommend you give it a go.