At their peak ...

ADOPTED Irishwoman, the aviatrix Daphne Pochin Mould wrote the first book about Irish mountains in 1955.

The Mountains of Ireland was an informative study replete with science and lore. Since then, dozens of books have been written on the topic.

According to Fáilte Ireland, the favourite activity of tourists to Ireland is hillwalking/trekking, ahead of golf, angling and cycling. Fáilte Ireland statistics for 2009 claim 250,000 overseas visitors participated in hiking or hillwalking here and spent €494m.

This year, a slew of books has hit the shelves. The Collins press in Cork is also ‘printing’ guides on Kindle. (Owner Con Collins is an experienced climber and walker.)

Three writers in the Collins stable — Damien Enright, Adrian Hendroff and Paul Phelan — have just added to the publisher’s expanding list. Enright is known for several walking guides and his weekly column in this paper. The beauty of the walks described in his new guide is you don’t have to be an experienced hillwalker. Simply put on a pair of sturdy boots and you’re half way there. Scenic Walks in West Cork; A Walking Guide (Collins Press, €14.99) elaborates on Enright’s previous books by including colour photographs of each route.

Kinsale, Courtmacsherry, Clonakilty, Ballydehob, Schull, Skibbereen, Baltimore, Bantry and Castletownbere — these names must appear exotic to visitors but to us are commonplace. Some of the walks in this guide are only a half-hour drive from Cork city. Others are a challenging 75 minutes. Enright describes himself as a perambulating hedge scholar. A man on a journey of knowledge, taking him where it will.

On one stroll, Enright identifies a dozen birds in the surrounding mudflats — oystercatchers among them. But the walk is calling, and onwards he goes down gorse and heather lanes in a south-west direction.

Away in the distance, Spain Tower rises above the village of Baltimore — it’s an old Napoleonic watchtower from the early 19th century. The views widen to include a vista of Mount Gabriel and in the foreground Spanish Island and Turk Head. The road then loops back after a couple of kilometres, with the mouth of the Ilen river on your left side as you return via honeysuckle lanes and montbretia avenues.

To qualify for Enright’s guide a route had to match three criteria. First, it should be scenic with attractions of nature, history or pre-history. Second, it must be a route that will remain open, a recognised or established way, an indisputable right-of-way, or a boreen. Finally, it must be a looped walk so as not to leave the walker distant from their source.

Enright has lived in many places — the Golden Vale, Dublin, Donegal, Mayo, California, and Greece to name but some. He says his favourite walls are in west Cork, notably in Cape Clear and Courtmacsherry. Having live abroad for 30 years, he had no doubt where to live when he came back. “It had to be west Cork. It was imprinted on my mind,” he says.

Adrian Hendroff, (Portuguese and Dutch descent) brings us further to the west, namely, The Dingle,Iveragh and Beara Peninsulas (€14.99). Hendroff is based in Wicklow but you wouldn’t think it judging by the intimate knowledge he has of the Slieve Mish range, the Reeks, the Caha mountains and others. He is one of the few people to have ascended all 268 of Ireland’s summits over 600m.

This book is stunningly illustrated with his own photographs and every grid reference is given, so that you couldn’t go the wrong way, even if you tried. Every stream crossing, every stile and every rocky slope is included. With the exception of the Carrauntoohil and Brandon walks, these are all routes devised by Hendroff himself. A lot tougher than Damien Enright’s walks, these are aimed at the serious hillwalker.

A second-time author, Hendroff’s initial foray into mountain-walking guides, From High Places: A Journey Through Ireland’s Great Mountains, was nominated for the Banff Mountain guidebook awards in Canada. He has been walking for more than 20 years and these walks are distilled from that experience.

One of his favourite walks is Lough Anascaul and Cnoc Mhaoilionain on the Dingle peninsula. “It’s a lovely area, it’s quiet and it’s got loads of stories,” he says. Here, Cú Chulainn fought a giant who had kidnapped his love, Scal. (Three km north of Glengariff, West Cork. Near Releagh Bridge on the N71, Park at V880.25 615.70. Distance: 10.5km/6.5 miles. Total ascent: 650m (2,133ft). Walking time: 3.5 to 4.5 hours. Maps: OSi sheet 85.)

Hendroff writes for a few publications in Britain and reports that the editors and readers haven’t heard of half the routes he describes.

Hendroff says there is huge untapped potential to ‘sell’ these routes and bring in much-needed revenue. He recently took out his godson, aged three, to the Sugarloaf in Wicklow. “Just to see his eyes light was worth it,” he says. As regards navigation, he advises there is no harm using GPS but batteries can fail. So always have a map and compass.

With its enticing chapter title, The Valley That Time Forgot just begs to be walked. It is on the Beara peninsula near Glengariff, Co Cork. Hendroff says he loves the peacefulness of this place — “long may it remain untouched by the hands of modern progress.”

The starting point is near the village of Glengariff in west Cork. You then head to Realagh Bridge, north of the Baurearagh river. The walk explores the best of the Caha mountains, initially along the Baurearagh Valley, then ascending to the broad spur of Caha at 608m (1,999ft), and finally crossing a narrow grassy ridge including Killane Mountain and Baurearagh mountain.

The walk will take you around four to five hours and affords stunning views.

Also out this year from Collins Press is Connemara and Mayo — a Walking Guide by Paul Phelan (€14.99). The writer’s enchantment with this territory is abundantly clear. In addition to writing, he leads walks through these mountains, the alluring Nephin Beg, the magisterial Maumturks (home to the toughest challenge walks in the country) and the wimpish-sounding Partry Mountains (anything but).

In case the walks, encompassing sandy beaches and mountain tops, aren’t enough for you, Phelan gives sound commentary on the archaeology, history, landscape, flora and wildlife.

Maps are included for every walk with photographs to illustrate the routes and even refreshment options. His scope takes in the islands as well, the daunting Achill and Clare islands and the spellbinding Inishturk (not named for its domestic viziers but its historic fauna — Inis Tuirc or island of the wild boar).

Here, peregrine falcons swoop to protect their nests. Fishing boats come hither and thither with their catch to dock at the charming pier.

One of the joys of walking is the cross-pollination with other activities it affords the walker. For some, this involves photography. Others are taken with flora and fauna, and still others combine walking with visits to sites of historical and archeological heritage.

But enough theory, it’s time to get out there and walk. A kilometre away, a previously unknown track leads to a side of a mountain where you thought there was no access. Discovery is heaped upon discovery, accompanied by a torrent of knowledge — place names, local characters, flora and fauna floods your brain — and some of it sticks. All we can do is to try to know them more.

These guides will help you on that quest.

* www.mountaineering.ie

* www.walkinginireland.org

* www.collinspress.ie

* www.damienenright.com

* www.adrianhendroff.com

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