Hill Walking

(The words 'hill' and 'mountain' are used indiscriminately below)

What is Hill-Walking?

Hill-walking in Ireland involves walking, usually in groups of two or more, on the open, trackless uplands of the Irish mountains. It brings the walker away from the noise and clutter of the urban environment into the calm and beauty of the hills. Walkers leave the roads and streets behind and strike into the empty hills, passing beyond agricultural land and state forests to the heathery commonage of the high places. Walking is perhaps the most accessible of all the adventure sports, enjoyed by all ages

Of all the activities in the Irish countryside, hill-walking is undoubtedly the most popular. It requires little in the way of special clothing or equipment, and there is hardly a spot in the country that has not some hill-walking within reasonable distance. But because it is so easy to hill-walk, many people go out on the hills without taking the few precautions that are essential. Others neglect to check whether they are welcome (see Countryside Access).

How to Get Involved

So if you want to start hill-walking, what should you do? - there are several choices:

Join an MCI Club. There are more than 100 clubs in the Mountaineering Council of Ireland (*), a 32 county organisation, and it is easy to find out from the MCI if there are any near you. Advantages of joining an MCI Club are good insurance cover and a quarterly magazine full of useful information as well as features. In Northern Ireland the Ulster Federation of Ramblers Clubs has a dozen or so member clubs.

Join a non-MCI Club. There are a number of these round the country, mostly in areas where the hills are small and pose no difficulties. They can't offer the same services as the MCI, but at least you are joining a local group who know their hills, and are experienced.

Form your own group. Built one around a nucleus of local experienced hill-walkers. A lot of hill walkers look for solitude and wildness on the hills, and may find a small group of friends preferable to a larger club party.

Take a training course. Most Centres round the country run course in hill-walking, and the MCI offers special personal proficiency training for hill-walkers. There are also higher MCI qualifications for hill-walkers who want to lead groups.

You will notice that the suggestions imply numbers walking together. Please don't walk alone on the hills, even a slight accident such as a sprained ankle can leave you needing help to get to safety, and there certainly isn't mobile phone cover on all our hills! Don't go to the other extreme either. Nothing destroys the pleasure of hill walking so much as meeting a large chattering group. Eight to ten is a good maximum.

Clothing and Equipment

The absolute essentials are wind-and-rainproof gear, boots, and a rucksack. Many older walkers like to use one (or preferably two) adjustable walking poles. A local map on a scale of 1:50,000 or greater is essential - the Ordnance Survey Discovery Series which covers all Ireland is generally the best, though there are larger scale maps for areas like Wicklow. You need a compass too; you probably won't set out with the intention of walking in cloud or mist, but we all know of the changeability of Irish weather, and high up in the mist, you do need to know the difference between north and south. Of course, neither map nor compass is any use unless you know how to use them!

Where to Walk?

Here is a round Ireland tour, clockwise from Dublin. The rounded granite mountains of Wicklow, with great ice-cut valleys like Glendalough and Glenmalure offer excellent walking within easy reach of Dublin. The sandstone mountains of the South-east, the Comeragh, Knockmealdown and Galty Mountains offer plenty of scope for long and short walks. The sandstone Cork and Kerry Mountains, include Carrauntoohil, at 1,039 metres the highest mountain in Ireland. These are rough, rugged mountains, much cut up during the Ice Age, and offering what many consider the most exciting hill walking in the country.

Galway offers the bare white quartzite peaks and steep-sided valleys of the Twelve Bens and Maum Turks, and moving north into Mayo there are plenty more wild lonely sandstone hills to visit. Sligo and Leitrim have the only limestone mountains in Ireland, notable for steep rocky sides, and good grassy summits - very little bog!

Donegal has perhaps our wildest mountains, all kinds of mountains, all kinds of rock, just the place for the adventurous walker. Across in Northern Ireland we find the Sperrins, a long ridge of rounded tops, reminiscent of Wicklow, but without its splendid ice-cut coums. Lastly there are the Moune Mountains, Belfast's lung, young granite mountains, not worn down like the Wicklows, and offering wonderful walking on the long horseshoe ridges.

There are many guidebooks to the walks in all these areas - you will find them in the bookshops, locally or in the main towns. It is important to check that they are published recently, there are often changes (not in the hills!) but in the approaches from the public road. Also please remember that because a walk is shown in a guidebook, that does not make the walk a right-of-way, and you are often on private property. You will also find many good ideas for walks on the website Hill-walking in Ireland(*).

A Risk Sport

On the hills you are primarily responsible for your own safety, but in all the more important mountain areas there are voluntary mountain rescue teams, dedicated to saving walkers and others who run into difficulty on the hills. They give a wonderful service on very slender funding.

For further information on all Irish mountain rescue teams, you can access the Mountain Rescue Ireland website.


previousPrevious - Countryside Access
Next - Waymarked Trails and Other Places to Walknext