Scarr mountain, (the name derives from ‘Sgurr’ which means a rocky ridge or peak), sits on the eastern edge of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, some 5 kilometres north of the better known and much visited scenic valley of Glendalough.

In contrast Scarr offers a much quieter experience. It too has a magnificent glacial ribbon lake, Lough Dan; and offers wonderful all round views from its’ breezy summit.

Though only 641 metres above sea level, it has a reputation as a windy and exposed hill, and hikers can often find themselves having to change their plans to avoid the windswept elongated summit ridge.  However, its lower height means you can often stay below the low cloud on Scarr, when other mountains are draped in impenetrable hill fog.

Heading towards the Bracket Rocks
Heading towards the Bracket Rocks

The mountains here are predominantly of granite, emplaced some 450 million years ago when two great continents collided. The granite is surrounded by a rock called mica-schist, altered from the original mudstones by tremendous heat and pressure when the molten granite forced its way upward through the Earth’s crust. These monumental forces were followed by millions of years of erosion by successive ice ages to eventually expose the granites.

On Scarr the summit is a cap of the overlying schists, not entirely removed by the ice, with the granite beneath.

The vegetation here is sparse, the thin peaty soil is stony and very poor in nutrients, what there are will be leached out by the rains. This leaves a landscape of heath, moss, sedge and bilberry.  Deer and a few sheep graze these hillsides, and this prevents tree regeneration and keeps the vegetation short.

Deer graze the slopes of Kanturk
Deer graze the slopes of Kanturk

On the lower flanks of the mountain are commercial conifer plantations, dark and mostly empty of life, they act as a shelter for the deer in bad weather, as well as home to the occasional pine marten.

The mountain has an elongated summit ridge, maybe half a kilometre long and running roughly north to south. There are long broad ridges, or spurs to the north and to the south, with another shorter spur going east.

Our hike takes us past Lough Dan, a glacial lake in a beautiful setting, with a backdrop of woods and mountains. The lake follows the line of the hills, turning left, and we follow, gaining height as we do, heading up the long spur towards the Bracket Rocks, a series of rocky knolls that mark the northern end of the mountain.

In misty conditions these outcrops can take on a different aspect, menacing and brooding, and threading a way through them requires local knowledge and some navigational skill. It can be very boggy, and the wet peat can soon swallow a miss placed foot.

Our path now turns south and ascends more steeply as we head for Kanturk, a name that translates as the head of the wild pig, a prominent knoll on the northern flank of Scarr. As we climb past Kanturk the summit of Scarr is visible ahead, and within a few minutes we are climbing the last few steep steps to the summit.

At last we get a chance to take in the long reaching views, east to the coast and west into the Wicklow Mountains, valley following ridge following valley away  into the distance.

Scarr summit ridge on a breezy spring day
Scarr summit ridge on a breezy spring day

As we take the undulating ridge south the wooded valleys and rolling hills of east Wicklow lie to our left, whilst the starker and more rugged landscape of the mountains lie straight ahead and to our right.

Our path now descends a broad heather clad spur towards Paddock Hill, but before we reach it we go left on an old track, past coniferous plantations. Soon we meet up with the Wicklow Way, a 127 km long distance path that runs the length of the Wicklow Mountains.

We follow the Wicklow Way down a farm track, gently meandering past fields and houses, until we reach a minor road, which we then follow to retrace our steps back to the vehicles.

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to know more, please follow the link to our website, hiking Scarr mountain.

Our next guided hike of this impressive landscape is on Saturday 26th March, why not join us?

Russ Mills is the owner and chief guide at Mountaintrails, and has been hiking, climbing and guiding for nearly 40 years.

 

 

 

 

The Wicklow Mountains are a range of granite hills a short drive south of Dublin on the east coast of Ireland. Formed by the glaciers that covered this land more than 12,000 years ago, they are now a series of rounded mountains and ‘U’ shaped valleys that rise to a high point of 940 metres but are more typically 600-800 metres high.

The poor nutrient levels of the thin soils and the dense peat that covers much of the hills, coupled with the high rainfall that leaches out what little goodness remains, results in a sparse heathland cover of heather, sedges, bilberries and mosses. Wild deer and a few sheep graze these hills, cropping the low vegetation and preventing tree regeneration. The lower slopes are forested with commercial conifer plantations, their dark interiors dripping with wet mosses and lichens, whilst a few areas of ancient oak and birch woods remain, and are now protected.

The Glendalough valley is a great place to start a hike, there is good parking, facilities and plenty of food and drink outlets. The waymarked paths can get crowded here on holidays and weekends, so this hike takes us away from the popular routes and onto a scenic ridge walk, with great all round views.

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Looking down to the Glendalough valley from Derrybawn

Glendalough translates from the Irish as the ‘glen of the two lakes’. Originally one lake, over time sediment from a stream flowing into the lough has eventually dammed it and cut it in two.

Our hike starts from the visitor centre, where we follow the ‘Green Road’ as it winds along the side of the valley through ancient woods preserved originally by the monks of the nearby monastery. We soon leave this behind us as we head up a narrow track through more oak and birch woodland to reach open country.

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Derrybawn Ridge

Our route now takes us steeply upward through heathland and pine plantation to the top of Derrybawn, the start of the ridge and a wonderful place to enjoy the views of the hills, valleys and mountains that surround us.

After taking in the views and catching our breath, we follow the ridge southwest, and as it broadens out we turn north west to take in our highpoint for the day, Mullacor, (from the Irish, Mullach Mhór, meaning ‘Big summit’), at 657 metres (2,156 ft) high.

In the saddle beyond the mountain our path is crossed by the Wicklow Way long distance trail, here there is the shelter of some trees, and a good place to break for lunch.

Continuing on our way, we follow a track that traverses around part of Lugduff  before we join a wooden boardwalk path at the top of the steep cliff that marks the southern side of the glaciated valley of Glendalough.

This is the Spinc, and from here there are stunning views east and west along the valley, and down to the lake 400 metres below.

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On the Spinc

Heading east now we follow the boardwalk along the cliff top until it descends into woodland and past the beautiful waterfall of Poulanass, before reaching the valley floor.

From here we can return to the visitor centre, but not before we linger a while at the ancient ruined monastic settlement with its iconic round tower. Founded by St. Kevin, and built in the 9th– 12th century, these ancient early Christian buildings attract many visitors and are a major attraction in Glendalough.

This hike is graded as moderate in our itinerary, and is 14km (8.5 miles), with an ascent of 560 metres (1837 ft).

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The monastic round tower

To join this, or any other of our guided hikes, click here to go to our website.

 

What is ‘Wind Chill’?

 
The core temperature of a human body is around 37C. The air around us is usually cooler than this and so we lose body heat, particularly from exposed skin.
Wind chill is the term that describes this heat loss, and the increased effects of low temperatures and wind.
When wind blows across the surface of exposed skin it will remove heat from that surface, making us feel colder than we would in still conditions. Wet skin and wet clothing will exacerbate the problem, as the rate of heat loss increases from wet surfaces.
The body compensates by sending more warm blood to heat the surface layers, eventually reducing our core temperature and risking hypothermia, (see our previous blog on hypothermia).
Well prepared for the icy conditions in the Wicklow mountains.

 

How do we deal with it?

 
We need to reduce the heat loss from our bodies, and the best way to do this is to wear insulating layers of windproof and waterproof clothing.
Waterproof shell jackets are also windproof and the addition of an insulating layer beneath will keep our body warm.
A warm hat is a must, keep it dry by raising the hood on your jacket. Keep your hands warm by wearing gloves, and carry a spare pair to change in to if they get wet.
You can help your body to generate heat by keeping energy levels high, eat regular high calorie snacks and take hot drinks with you on your hike.
It is important to be aware of the potentially dangerous effects of wind chill, and carry appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable, warm and safe when hiking in the winter months.