Dad of two, Kieron Gribbon, treats himself to a weekend of Highpointeering on the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal.
Being dad to my 5-year-old and 2-year-old sons is a non-stop journey full of fun, discovery and rediscovery with never a dull moment. Although my days in the higher hills have become fewer and further between since the boys came along, those hills still call to me as loudly and as constantly as they ever did.
Being a parent is its own unique kind of adventure, full of mini adventures and landmark moments. However, an opportunity to have a full weekend of “me time” in the higher hills is a very welcome thing.
While planning my Highpointeering weekend to Inishowen in County Donegal, I had browsed my ever-growing collection of Irish walking guidebooks for routes to the High Points. I discovered that the best guidebook for Highpointeering on the peninsula is Donegal, Sligo & Leitrim: A Walking Guide by Adrian Hendroff. It includes routes to three of Inishowen’s five major High Points: Slieve Snaght, Raghtin More and Bulbin.
Saturday 4th August 2018
Having stayed at An Grianán Hotel in Burt the previous night and visited the Grianán of Aileach that morning (read separate post), I set off towards the start point for my first High Point of the weekend: Slieve Snaght.
On the way, I called in to Burnfoot Service Station to buy a sandwich for later. As well as a sandwich bar, there was also a hot food counter stocked for breakfast, and a spacious dining area. I also took the opportunity to refuel the car while I was there.
I made my way to the start point recommended by Adrian Hendroff in his book. This was the parking area outside a school near the southern end of the R244 road close to where it meets the R238. I followed the walking route described in the book to the end of the stone track. From here, I deviated from the description to take a direct approach to the summit following a series of marker posts.
The ground conditions along this marked section were generally good due to the recent spell of warm, dry weather. However, I suspect that it would normally be quite soggy underfoot, which is probably why Adrian describes a higher approach via Slieve Snaghtbeg.
At the summit, I found dozens of small stone cairns. The High Point itself was marked by, what looked like, a large stone cairn. Closer inspection revealed this to be a circular wall surrounding Slieve Snaght’s trig pillar.
From the summit, most of the Inishowen peninsula could be seen surrounded on three sides by water: the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Lough Swilly to the west, and Lough Foyle to the east. The views extended across to the Derryveagh Mountains in northwest County Donegal, the Sperrin Mountains in County Derry and much of Ireland’s rugged north coast from Horn Head to Benbane Head. On clearer days, I’m sure the western isles of Scotland would even come into view.
I stayed for about half an hour at the summit to have lunch, admire the far-and-wide views, log my visit on Peakhunter, take photos and make my video before retracing my steps back to the car. Then on to my overnight base.
Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel & Spa
Having heard some very good reports about Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel & Spa, I chose to stay there on the Saturday night. A bit of luxury, sure why not?
I checked in, left my bag in the room, contacted home, then went down to the spa for an hour of relaxation in the pool, steamroom and sauna. Then up to Jacks bar in the hotel for some food and a pint of the black stuff.
Very tasty! Then an early night.
Sunday 5th August 2018
With two High Points planned for the day, I went down to breakfast at 7:30a.m. Being one of the first down, I managed to get a window table with sea views. The buffet breakfast offered an excellent range of hot and cold food options. From cereals and fruit to all the components of a full Irish. It certainly set me up for the day ahead.
Having noticed a “Kids’ Club” sign on the hotel’s first floor landing, I enquired about it when checking out. Apparently, free activities are available to children staying in the hotel during school holiday periods. Good to know. I might bring the family next time.
Given that I was also planning to visit Raghtin More later that same day, I chose to approach Bulbin by the shortest route. On Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Sheet 3, a road marked in yellow looked like it might produce an elevated start point on Bulbin’s southern slopes. That road was the L6881, a minor side road off the R238, which leads up to the edge of a wind farm.
There is limited parking, but I found a suitable spot from where Bulbin’s summit cross was clearly visible to the north. The first part of my approach followed a stone track straight towards the summit, then it was across rough terrain for the rest of the way.
My approach was interrupted by a single fence, possibly marking the boundary between two different landowners’ properties. It was unclear if there were any access issues in the area, but I chose to continue on towards the summit. There were no gates or stiles to be seen along the fence, so I crossed at the sturdiest post I could find.
The remainder of the approach was boggy in places, but generally good conditions underfoot. I made the summit in well under an hour.
At the top, I had intermittent views through the clouds. To the east, I could see Slieve Snaght. To the west, Raghtin More. The northern side of Bulbin is cliffs, so take care. As Adrian Hendroff points out in his book, these cliffs are not marked on the OS map.
Bulbin is the Range High Point in the West Inishowen Hills.
I stayed at the summit for almost half an hour to enjoy the views and to log / record my visit before returning to the car by the same route.
Although it is not on the High Points list, I decided to pay a visit to Crockmain’s summit as part of my Raghtin More walk. My chosen approach was going to pass close to it, so I thought I might as well make the short detour to check it out.
The route started from the Glenevin Waterfall car park near Clonmany. Adrian Hendroff suggests this start point for the Raghtin More route described in his book. In fact, part my chosen route was based on Adrian’s description.
From the car park, I passed through the metal gate on the left to follow the stone track. I had opted to exclude Raghtin Beg from the route to avoid having to descend into Butler’s Glen. Instead, I followed the track all the way to the coll at head of the valley.
From the col, I turned right and off the staked-out path for a direct approach to Crockmain summit.
From the top, the view southwest along the main ridge of the Urris Hills made me wish I had more time to explore the range. On the far shore of Lough Swilly, I could see the Fanad Head Lighthouse. As I surveyed the hills on the Fanad peninsula, picking out its High Points, I was already thinking about a future expedition to that side of Lough Swilly.
I logged and recorded my visit as I always do, and moved on to my final summit of the weekend.
The short walk to Raghtin More was fairly straightforward. A small descent to a col, then up the other side to a broad summit area.
A trig pillar marks the High Point, and there are also a few stone cairns near by.
Views were similar to those from Crockmain, except for the northern view which also included Binnion and the village of Clonmany.
Raghtin More is the Range High Point in the Urris Hills.
I logged and recorded my visit to Raghtin More before making a zig-zag descent to rejoin the track leading back to the car park.
Overall, my Highpointeering weekend on Inishowen was a very enjoyable one. I had also considered visiting Inishowen’s other two Range High Points, but I ran out of time. Crocknasmug and Crockalough will have to keep for another day.
Instead I returned to Belfast, getting home just in time to put my sons to bed.
As mentioned above, the best walking guide book for Inishowen is Donegal, Sligo & Leitrim: A Walking Guide by Adrian Hendroff. I would recommend this book to any walker who is planning a visit to the peninsula.
Another essential publication is Ordnance Survey Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Series Sheet 3. This is the most detailed map for the area.