On Sunday last week I was supposed to be walking with the Club but due to the yellow weather warning for thunderstorms the walk leader decided to cancel the evening before. I thought this was a bit over cautious but then I’ve never had to take responsibly for a group in the hills.
With a close eye on the forecast I was able to see on Sunday morning that the Bluestack Mountains weren’t going to be at any risk until late Sunday evening so I made the decision to head out, properly equipped in case the weather did turn nasty of course.
I followed a walk from Mountainviews.ie by Gerry McVeigh who has a great YouTube channel also. It was 11km (that somehow turned out to be 12.5km?) and took in 4 summits, all slightly over 400m, on the less trodden section of the range. It was an intensely warm and humid day with hard ground for walking that really took it out of me but it was also a lovely walk and very satisfying to complete. It’s also given me a real confidence boost for the higher Bluestacks.
Unsurprisingly there’s a video on my channel if you are interested in seeing how it went.
Standing at the junction of the road and lane where I’d said goodbye to the Dutch couple earlier today I had a decision to make. I could walk on down the road to the car park and finish with a pretty good 11km hike for the day or I could turn right and add on another 4.5km for a great day. Looking down at my soaking wet legs and watching water bubble and run out of my boots I was tempted by box #1 and to come back another day for Mullaghbolig. My legs were tired, I was soaking wet and I had a painful blister on my right foot from walking in wet socks so I had all the excuses I needed. However, I managed to drag a “fuck it!” attitude from out of nowhere and started squelching up the lane.
The sun was back out and it was pleasantly warm walking along the gravel track with a good view South towards Gortin and Mullaghcarn prominent in the distance. The fields either side were filled with sheep busily wondering who I was and I could see the track curving around the side of the hill in the distance. After 10min my trousers were starting to dry out and I’d resigned myself to heavy wet feet until I was finished. I was enjoying myself so much that I ended up walking past the suggested access line for the top of the hill. Once I realised my mistake I backtracked the few hundred metres to the very obvious open gate at the end of a long line of conifers.
Heading into the field I spotted a faint track made by a farmer’s tractor and as it seemed to be heading in the right direction I used this as a marker. This was perfect as the tractor had worn down the majority of the heather leaving the grass a chance to grow and providing me with a spongy but easy surface to walk on.
A few hundred metres from the top I left the grass and headed in to the knee deep heather making for yet another fence line on the ridge of the hill. Turning east at the fence I made straight for the summit.
On any other day this would have been easy enough walking but my legs were dead by now and my feet felt like blocks of concrete. Multiple stops were required to get me the relatively short distance to the top. As I approached the summit Glenelly Valley opened out before me with brilliant views. In typical Sperrins fashion the summit was unmarked except for the meeting of a number of fences.
summit markers sperrins style
Reaching this summit felt like a huge achievement and I was so glad I’d decided to push on to here today. However, I was knackered and needing a rest. I pulled out the stove and made a cup of tea and enjoyed it while watching a heavy shower work its way up the valley below Mullaghcarn from Gortin. Thankfully I had time to relax and enjoy the view before the shower hit me on the way back down. Retracing my steps along the gravel track I was battered by rain and a stronger breeze than I’d felt all day. I was soaked again but caught myself with a huge grin on my face. I felt great, great to be alive, out in the elements and thankful to have the chance and ability to spend a day in the hills.
Back at the road I decided to head back on the lower Gorticashel Road which, although busier, also descends the bottom of the gulley that forms Barnes Gap. The added bonus was to miss the noisy dogs I’d met at the start!
Down through the Gap I was treated to many small waterfalls coming off the hill to my left while a bigger stream tumbled off the cliff to the right before forming a natural swampy bog at the bottom. The larch trees planted up the side of hill on the left were green with new growth and blowing in the soft breeze leaving the air fresh with their smell mixing with the wetland area across the road. It was a very peaceful and calming stroll back down to the car park.
Reaching the car park I was equally relieved to get sitting down at one of the picnic benches and to see that the Dutch couple’s car was gone. My nightmare scenario of them lost in the hills faded away.
Needing some time before changing and driving home I got the stove out for one last time. I made a well earned hot chocolate and sat enjoying it while watching the sun through the trees and listening to the breeze and birds singing. A very fine end to a hugely enjoyable walk.
On Wednesday the day started later than usual with a decision late the night before to head for the Sperrins but not enough time before bed to get organised. It fell to the next morning to plot the route and pack the bag. Thankfully all the info I needed was on Mountainviews.ie and I left the house just before 11am.
The starting point was the car park just below Barnes Gap (the Tyrone version) and the official starting point for the 20km Craignamaddy Loop and the 11km Vinegar Hill Loop. Although I overlapped with both these routes I was aiming for the open hill and the actual summits of Craignamaddy and Mullaghbolig. This car park is also on the International Appalachian Trail and had a nice and unusual marker post.
they didn’t stay clean and dry for long!
As I arrived a friendly Dutch couple were just setting off and cheerily called hello as they left the car park. Heading up the higher and steeper of the two road options (waymarked for Vinegar Hill) I passed through a farmyard and its collection of noisy but harmless dogs. Once I stopped and they realised I wasn’t going to rob the place they became quite friendly and were soon shoving each other to get petted. The farmer stuck his head out and we had a short chat about my plans for the day.
At the top of the road at the first junction I met the Dutch couple again looking lost. The many little roads had them confused but I soon had them sorted as they were following the same route as me for a short section. We had a very pleasant chat about their trip to Ireland and I answered some of the usual questions about living on the border. As I left them I was a bit concerned that they could get lost again but it was a good day and they seemed fit and well dressed so we wished each other well and went our separate ways.
After less than 1km I left the road for a gravelled lane with high hedges and a number of abandoned buildings. It was quite warm and with very little wind I had a very enjoyable walk as the lane wound its way around the side of Mullaghbane. I turned off this lane, over a farm gate and on to the now abandoned Central Sperrins Way. A dilapidated and overgrown stile with a very weathered marker told me I was on the right path.
This rougher track headed straight uphill and my puffing and panting was rewarded with lungfulls of air redolent with the heady aroma of sheep. The hills here are extensively grazed and it wasn’t long until I was being carefully watched by a herd. With so many sheep and the dogs at the start I was glad I’d left Rosie at home today.
The rough track eventually petered out just below the crest of the hill and I used a handy grassy ramp to skirt the high banking created by years of peat extraction to unnamed Pt 366. Looking at the bank it seemed to have been hand-cut which was impressive.
this poor sheep had a bad winter…
is it just in ireland that signs mysteriously end up pointing in the wrong direction?
At the top of the grassy ramp a fence follows the crest of the hill marking the boundary between two townlands. Ignoring the old marker and turning left, navigation became a piece of cake as the fence line runs all the way to the summit and beyond. On the way I had to skirt a couple of boggy spots and cross a few sheep fences. The first still had a stile in place before the old waymarked trail veered off to the right.
The remaining fences were a mix of easy to step over and gymnastics required to avoid unfortunate barbed wire injuries. The terrain was mostly soggy but easy following vague sheep trails through the short heather with only one short, steep scrambly section. Crossing the last fence I entered an area that hadn’t been grazed for quite a while and the heather and grass was soon up to my knees. Thankfully I only had to wade through this for less than 1km before reaching the summit. The top of this ridge is so flat I actually walked over the official high point. A quick 360 and I began to retrace my steps back along the fence towards Pt 366.
On the way over a couple of drizzly showers and one heavier passed over. The day was so warm with little to no breeze that I didn’t even bother stopping to put on a coat letting my light fleece absorb the rain and dry out quickly once it passed.
Halfway back I stopped for lunch in a small hollow. There was a rock formation that looked like it wasn’t completely natural. To my eye it could have been a collapsed tomb which would make sense as the townland boundaries would have been ancient territorial borders and stone structures would have been traditionally used for navigation and boundary markers. Today it was a pleasant spot to stop for lunch and let my imagination roam.
The return to Pt 366 was uneventful but the rain had now cleared up. Passing my earlier track up I kept following the fence line East through the same heather and grass, still following faint sheep trails and crossing so many old fences I lost count. This area seems to have been abandoned for grazing which on one hand meant the fences were all collapsed and easily stepped over but also meant the heather was deep and more difficult to walk through. It wasn’t long until my legs were soaked but once again I didn’t mind as it was so warm and pleasant.
where fences go to die
Eventually I reached the summit of Mullaghbane (not significant enough to register on Mountainviews.ie lists) and began descending back towards Barnes Gap. Eventually the hill became very steep but manageable with care. One small cliff had to be skirted completely. The heather here was very deep with lots of knee high juniper starting to take over. I was pleased to see quite a few Mountain Ash gaining a strong foothold also. They looked to have been grazed a bit, possibly by deer, and weathered by the recent winters but still surviving.
Reaching the bottom a large area of grass just needed crossing back on to the road. Feeling relaxed I wasn’t watching properly and ended up stepping into a hidden stream that was completely overgrown with a thick grass mat and bog. Before I knew what had happened I was in up to my unmentionables and still not feeling the bottom. Using my walking poles I was able to slowly turn and get enough purchase to drag myself back on to firmer ground. It gave me a bit of a fright but upon further investigation I was able to cross the boggy bit with a very large step and make my way up to the road.
10km completed and a decision to be made now whether to carry on to Mullaghbolig or pull the pin with boots that felt like concrete and soaking wet feet and legs…
Anxiety and dealing with it has been on my mind a lot recently. A recent event really annoyed me and then I read Reg Spittle’s book “Camino Sunrise”. I reviewed it a little while back but essentially he writes about walking the Camino and dealing with significant anxiety issues before and during the walk. He describes a lifetime of anxiety and how it affected his life, his interactions with others and how it prevented him taking part in many social events and activities.
His story really made me think. I’ve had a few issues with anxiety over the last number of years but thought it was a recent thing. However, a number of his memories made me look again at events when I was younger. I was always shy and socially awkward as a teenager and a young adult. I found it difficult to make friends (still do to a certain extent) and found new and unfamiliar people and events difficult to navigate. I would worry about what could or might happen, would be concerned about being unliked or doing something embarrassing that would leave me open to ridicule.
I vividly remember one event in my first year at college when I made arrangements to go to a student night club with a group. One of the girls was on my course and the others shared a house with her. We arranged for them to pick me up on the way as we were all walking and they passed my digs. I remember hiding in the house with the lights off, pretending not to hear them at the door and claiming the next day that I wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early. All of this was caused by an intense fear that I wouldn’t fit in with them.
Other small events come to mind over the years, usually to do with social events and you can imagine how difficult it was to start dating! I cringe now when I look back at the first few times I met girls that I liked but was frozen by a fear of rejection and humiliation.
In the last few years I’ve had episodes of anxiety linked to big events but also for surprisingly minor undertakings. I remember binning at least one Audax cycle due to a fear of not being able to complete the route and worry about getting stranded with no way home. In the last couple of weeks I had a similar experience that really annoyed me.
I’ve done a few short and reasonably easy hikes in the last year or so and I have been developing a hunger for more challenging mountain hikes again. I’ve rooted out all my old books and rediscovered a circuit of the Sruell Valley that goes into the heart of the Bluestack Mountains and includes the highest point along the way. I made plans and pencilled it in for one of my days off. I was really looking forward to this hike for the best part of a week and had everything lined up days in advance and even the weather looked good.
The day before this all changed. I started worrying about all the things that could go wrong. My fitness is shot to hell, I’m carrying 10kg more than I should and it’s been 10-15 years since I attempted a hike with this kind of challenge. I was worried about the remoteness of the walk and my total inexperience of an area I hadn’t walked in before.
The morning of the hike I had an early appointment and I also had to be finished and back home by a certain time. My early morning anxiety manifested itself in an upset stomach and when the morning appointment went on longer than expected I was in a high state of anxiety. I somehow managed to convince myself to go anyway but the whole way to the starting point I was running through reasons to call it off. One of my ingenious excuses was to lie and say it was too cloudy as I could see a lowish cloud base on the drive over. By the time I arrived at the start this actually was the case. A weather system had creeped in that consisted of steady, heavy drizzle and a very thick, dark and low bank of cloud over the whole range. I couldn’t see anything above 200m and it was foolish to contemplate the hike in those conditions.
Within 10min of making the decision to abandon the hike and on my way home I could physically feel the anxiety lifting. It was like someone opened a valve and let it all drain out. The knots in my stomach that had been there all morning unravelled and I felt like I was floating with the decision made for me. It brought a sense of relief but also huge anger. I was furious and felt that I’d let the anxiety beat me and simply used the weather as an easy escape. I’m still not sure if I did or not but it certainly opened my eyes to how anxiety could and had prevented me from doing something I should have enjoyed. Reading Reg’s book a few days later really brought it all home to me but also gave me an urge to beat it.
Within a day or so I’d come up with an alternative plan, to complete a different challenging hike of a similar level but one I had done before. In fact on the way home that first day I actually scouted out the start point for parking as I hadn’t been there for almost 15 years. On Sunday I did that hike.
It’s a hike up Barnesmore Gap climbing Croaghonagh from the steep side and descending by a very steep gully. The first few kilometres follow the track of the decommissioned Donegal Railways line that ran from Stranorlar through the Gap to Donegal Town from 1889 to 1959. Walking this track there is ample evidence of the old railway. There are many of the original telegraph poles still standing, there are stone retaining walls on the hill to protect from landslides as well as stone culverts to divert streams under the tracks. The ground is clearly modified to provide a flat surface for the railway and the gravel used to grade the line is still visible on many sections. There is a subtle feel underfoot of the regular humps where the sleepers would have sat to support the rails.
After approximately 3.5km a convenient sheep trail provides a reasonably easy location to cross the old stone wall and get access to the hill. This is where the hard work begins. The next 45min was a slog through deep grass and heather, dry and brittle from the winter winds and the last week of dry weather. This is trackless terrain that is best traversed using vague sheep trails to avoid the worst of the boggy ground and hidden holes that could easily result in a broken leg or twisted ankle. Around and between craggy outcrops, crossing a couple of small streams and climbing a steep, grassy ramp eventually gives you your first clear view of the summit having climbed approximately 280m in 2km. The final push to the summit dips and climbs across a mixture of peat hags, boggy grassland and eventually a short steep climb up an enjoyable rocky outcrop.
The rocky summit is spoiled by 3 masts surrounded by fences and support cables but the views are amazing. Despite the haze there were great views out over Lough Eske and Donegal Bay to St John’s Point and Slieve League just about visible in the far distance with the Dartry Mountains to the Southwest and Benwiskin and Benbulben clearly visible. Eastwards you are looking out over Lough Mourne and the bleak expanse of bogland stretching into Co. Tyrone as well as down the Finn Valley with the Sperrins clearly visible and the mountains of Inishowen in the far distance. Close by the craggy hulk of Croaghconnellagh looms just across Barnesmore Gap.
Lunch was had in the shelter of a large boulder with the wind thrumming through the mast cables sounding like a jet engine readying for take off. Out of the wind it was warm in the strong sunshine and I sat for almost 45min enjoying the view.
It’s possible to descend from the summit using the access track for the masts and forest tracks for approximately 5km. However, I opted for the much more direct option that follows a gully just below the summit that drops over the edge and the very steep drop back to the earlier approach trail. This is an incredibly steep and demanding descent that requires great care to choose the best line. Rushing here and a resulting trip or fall could have disastrous consequences. After the dry spell I probably had the best possible conditions for attempting it. Reaching the bottom my thighs and calves were throbbing with the effort and my knees were aching but looking back up I had an intense feeling of satisfaction for having done it.
The last 1.5km trace the original path in through the forest and back to the parking spot. A difficult, challenging but very rewarding hike.
According to Mountainviews.ie my closest recorded summit is a small hill (219m) just 6.9km in a straight line from home. In fact I can see it from my front door. The hill is officially called Meenavally but locally it is known as The Steeple.
On the top of the hill there is a small, squat and pretty ugly tower built with stone and lime. There is a door in one wall and an internal winding staircase that brings you to a flat area with a low parapet. In the centre of the upper floor there is a round opening with a metal grate that allows vertical access from the ground floor, almost like a chimney.
Over the years there have been many gruesome rumours about the tower on the hill. Stories are told of satanic rites and devil worship including disappearing children and human sacrifice. None of these rumours are true but the origins of the tower are still interesting.
The townland is called Tircallen and from the 1600s the area was part of a larger estate of the same name created during the Plantation of Ulster. It was purchased by Sir Henry Stewart in 1789 and in the early 1800s he constructed the tower as an astronomical observatory which was very much in vogue with the gentry of Ireland at the time. Unfortunately, there are no surviving records of Sir Henry’s so it isn’t known what observations he made or what contribution this tower made to scientific research of the time.
The tower is also called The Steeple after the hill but is also known as Mullaghagarry Tower after the name of the forest woodland it is now located in. The forest is a commercial forest owned and operated by Coillte. It’s likely that the estate was acquired by the government’s Land Commission in the 1930s for redistribution to local tenant farmers which was the policy of the time. The tower, however has survived relatively unscathed.
I’ve been to the tower multiple times on foot and also by bike as we used to use the area for night time MTBing a few winters ago. I placed a geocache in the area in 2006 to mark the date of 06/06/06. In 2007 myself and a few other geocachers took part in a documentary on geocaching for RTE’s Nationwide programme. It’s the second location in the video below.
Although I’ve visited the tower many times I want to revisit all locations afresh for my Local 50 challenge so on Sunday I went back. I used a different access point than usual and my plan was to create a looped walk of approximately 9km. However, my maps are really out of date now and the hoped for track petered out on private farmland that I wasn’t happy venturing on to.
I attempted to work my way around through the trees on faint paths but not knowing the area too well I ended up back out on the main track and at that point decided to make it a simple there and back walk but still ended up with 6km. Rosie the dog was with me and despite some very heavy rain showers we had a very nice afternoon.
Not much photography on this walk but I did film and the results are linked below if you want to watch. Thankfully I seem to have solved the audio sync issue I had before.
Altnapaste is 364m high and located on the Eastern edge of the Bluestack Mountains just a few kilometres west of Ballybofey. It’s a hill I’ve had on my radar since I first started looking at my Local 50 peaks on Mountainviews.ie a couple of months ago. A number of cycling routes pass near Altnapaste and although it’s not that high it is fairly distinct.
At the time I climbed it there wasn’t a specific GPS track but there were a number of logs giving good descriptions and waypoints and I managed to create my own track quite easily.
The first section of the walk is along a farm/forestry access lane so there was a good wide area for parking at the start. The first few kilometres on the track gave me a good chance to warm up the legs before I turned off track and onto the rough grass/heather hillside along the edge of a small pine plantation.
The hillside soon turned steep and the going was pretty tough with no track and deep grass and heather. After a few hundred metres the ground eased off a little and continued climbing until I reached a fenceline that was easily crossed. With a bright clear day I was easily able to plot the route ahead and crossed a flatter area before hitting a grassy ramp that climbed between two sections of the hill. Although the ground steepened the grass made the going a lot easier to manage and I soon reached a second fenceline. I knew this one went all the way to the summit and that I was only a few hundred metres from the top.
The final climb was once again through steep, rough ground, heavily overgrown with knee deep heather before levelling off on a rocky flat summit with a short walk to the summit cairn. The views were fabulous in all directions, especially to the west where the sun was starting to set and appearing below ominous grey clouds but creating one hell of an atmosphere.
The breeze was bone chilling and relentless so I didn’t hang around too long before I started to retrace my steps and returned the way I’d ascended, this time enjoying the great views that were mostly behind me on the way up.
At the bottom of the hill I diverted into the pine plantation to have lunch and some peace and quiet. I’d brought my gas stove to heat water for a fresh cup of tea. This is a recent change for me and one of the best things I’ve started doing out walking this year. A fresh cup of tea beats a flask any day of the week and is more than worth the little bit of extra weight in the rucksack.
This spot turned out far nicer than I expected from my very brief glance on the way up. Once through the branches at the edge the space opened out nicely with lots of deadfall allowing loads of light in and enough space to feel surprisingly open for a plantation. It was so peaceful out of the wind and I could have stayed there for hours. I didn’t think my mind needed clearing but that half hour definitely did.
The last couple of kilometres, back along the lane again, were a perfect finish with great views again of the sun setting behind the main Bluestacks. What a cracker of a day!
The reason I have delayed so long in writing this post is that I also filmed the walk. I finally got around to editing the footage yesterday to be able to add it to this post. Link below as usual.
I’m struggling to get the audio to align with the video. It’s out of sync on the original, synced up fine in the app and then seems out of sync again once finalised. I’m not sure if it’s my camera, the app or me but it’s very frustrating! I may try a different app next time to see if that works better.
edit (29.12.21): I think I’ve now worked out how to correct the out of sync audio and keep it in sync during the finalisation process. At least the morning commute was useful for something 😆
Last Wednesday I decided to head west of Ballybofey and up into the outer reaches of the Bluestack Mountains. There are a lot of big walks there in my closest 50 summits but also some shorter ones for days like today when I’m short on time.
Cuillagh SE Top (369m)
There is so much choice in this area that it took me a long time to decide but this looked like a nice walk. The page on MountainViews also had a track to download. I initially thought it was about 5km and would take about an hour to an hour and a half but I had it mixed up with one of the many others I looked at!
There is a good parking spot close to a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere. A number of scrap cars are parked in a layby area with ample space to add another.
The first section of the walk heads along a farm lane passing through two gates before taking a left turn and heading straight uphill across the grazed grassland. Navigation is easy as you are basically heading straight for the summit over some rolling hilly sections. Ground underfoot was soggy but not too boggy. The area was heavily grazed and the very wary sheep had kept the heather and grass short which made the walking much easier.
I reached the top much quicker than expected. There is no cairn or summit marker and there were a number of potential high spots. I stood on them all but my favourite was the rocky outcrop on the far side of the fence. The views from here were more than worth the effort of climbing over the fence twice.
views southeast to the bluestacks
north with errigal and muckish in the far background
Having wandered around for a while I headed back to the start by a slightly different route taking me across two other grazed but empty fields. On the way I spotted this lad crawling through the grass. Seems late in the year but I’m sure he knows what he’s at.
The final section before the track involved scrambling down into and back out of a surprisingly deep gully formed by a stream running off the hill.
At only just over 3km this was a very enjoyable walk with great views of the Bluestack Mountains and North towards the Derryveagh Mountains. Definitely worth a visit.
This was a short drive away which involved skirting around Cuillagh and approaching the summit through a windfarm. This area is full of windfarms. I’m pretty neutral about windfarms but this kind of proliferation feels wrong. It also makes for a pretty dull walk!
I managed to park at the wrong gate (full of over the top and intimidating signs) so had a 400m walk along the quiet road before entering the correct gate.
you shall not pass. wtf!
a bit friendlier
Heading in the main gate I simply followed the windfarm tracks. They quickly ascend the steep climb but after the first few hundred metres tend to dip down below the surface of the bog meaning the views are pretty non existent. By the time I reached the end of the track and the final couple of hundred metres of grassland to the summit I was sick of the sight and sound of the windmills.
The final approach is once again straightforward and typical mixture of eroded boggy hags, grass and heather of this area. Once again the summit was unmarked but had decent views for all its height. I couldn’t help but feel though that the landscape was so much more beautiful before they started building the hundreds of windmills that filled every direction.
errigal and muckish again
summit selfie with the least amount of windmills possible
The trip back to the car was simply the approach in reverse. However, I somehow managed to get disorientated and took a wrong turn. Coming back to the junction I’ve no idea how I missed this sign!
My original plan was to go for a 3rd nearby hill called Ballystrang but it was another windfarm and I couldn’t gather enough motivation for it. I’ve also decided that I would be better keeping these short, easier walks for the winter when I have an urge to get out but only have a short weather window.
I’d given over today to getting some chores done. A couple of household jobs I’d been putting off for a while and giving my MTB a good clean and lube as well as changing the seat. I’m planning to MTB at least once a week with the club group but needed to make sure the bike was in good shape.
I’d everything sorted by 4:30pm and with a lovely mild and bright afternoon I felt the need to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. Croaghan Hill was my target as it’s a decent effort, less than an hour and not too far from home.
I’ve climbed Croaghan before and when I checked my records I was shocked to see it was almost 9 years ago!
a very young rosie at the summit trig nov 2012
The start location is up a very minor road off the main N15 close to Lifford. The road surface deteriorates considerably for the last 400m but it’s manageable with care. The suggested parking location is beside a field entrance gate where the verge widens enough to squeeze in a single car.
The route to the summit crosses a number of fields and fences requiring careful navigation of barbed wire and considerable flexibility. Once over the final fence the route goes through a section of scrub thick with brambles and gorse along the line of one more fence. Last time I went along the downhill side of the fence but this looked more overgrown now and I decided to go uphill today. This was a mistake as the downhill side quickly thinned out whereas I continued to work through knee high heather, brambles and gorse. Eventually I was able to cut left and make for the summit.
The top of the hill is an ancient hillfort and the unmapped trigpoint is built slap bang on top of what is believed to be a burial tomb. It’s believed to be the tomb of no lesser being than Ithe who was the uncle of Milesius, the first of the country’s legendary invaders. He was killed in the Battle of Mag Itha (Finn Valley), the first recorded battle in Ireland, against the Tuatha De Danaan and buried inside the Bronze age hill fort on top of Croaghan Hill. He was buried in the highest point in this area so that even in death people would still have to raise their heads to look at him. His tomb is known as the Foyde.
It’s also believed that one of the stones of nearby Beltany Stone Circle was sourced from Croaghan Hill and transported the 5km to Beltany.
For such a short walk (approximately 20min) and a modest height of 217m this hill has fantastic views in all directions. I could see across Strabane to Knockavoe where I was last week and further into the Sperrins, west to Barnes Gap and the Bluestack Mountains with the sun setting behind them, north west to Mongorry Hill sitting above Raphoe with Beltany Top and stone circle in between and finally north to Inishowen. The weather this evening was perfect for enjoying this beautiful view of my local area.
strabane, knockavoe and sperrins
mongorry hill and beltany top
bluestacks and the setting sun
On the way down I followed the surprisingly obvious track off the summit to the fenceline. I was able to cross easily and follow the fence back to the fields. The track also seemed to go left and down a different route but I didn’t want to waste time exploring as I had another plan in mind.
The path back downhill was much better but care was required as there’s only a thin layer of soil over rock and it was very slippery in sections. The last 20m was a jungle of brambles and gorse making me regret the thin leggings I was wearing.
On my last visit I managed to partly dislocate my left knee when crossing one of the fences (previously dislocated and weakened and still gives me problems). I was relieved to get across this hurdle and back to the car in one piece today. At just under 2km and 45min in total it was a great mini hike to cap the day.
My initial plan was to head straight home but with more time than expected I decided to make a slight diversion on the way home and tick another small hill off the list.
Fearns Hill is only 231m, a short walk from the road and the second closest hill to home on the MountainViews list.
Although it’s had a good few visits only one other member has written a log. Not having much daylight left I decided to follow his directions rather than trying to plot my own route. These directions brought me to a very minor road and a tiny parking spot at yet another field gate just 275m from the summit coordinates.
I climbed over the gate, which is part of a cattle holding pen and headed across the field following the GPS arrow and bringing back memories of my geocaching days. I soon encountered the field boundary with a single strand barbed wire fence and a second fence higher up. I soon discovered that the first fence was electrified as the mild tingle kicked up my fingers and into my lower arm so I decided it was prudent to duck under rather than step over!
The second fence sits atop an embankment with a dry ditch on the other side. The hill rounds off above this. It brought to mind a hillfort and looking at the OS map at home it’s marked as an ancient Rath.
The top of the hill is now a farmer’s field with a few nondescript humps, one of which is the highest point. Close by on an exposed rocky outcrop is the remains of what appears to be a small concrete building. It’s unclear what it was but it may have been a forerunner of the nearby communication masts.
watch altitude is pretty accurate
Just like Croaghan there are brilliant views despite the low elevation. These include a cracker view back towards Croaghan itself. However, I felt uncomfortably like I was on private property and didn’t want to hang around very long. I was back at the car less than 20min after leaving and home in time to make dinner.
I’m fairly rattling through the closest 50 hills but it’s misleading as most of them so far are short and easy and the closest to home. It will soon get more difficult and hopefully more interesting too.