Hello from the first blog post to come from STUDIO flâneuse.
Those of you who follow on Instagram may already know this flâneuse doesn't just stick to urban trails and the inspiration for the majority of my pieces doesn't come from inside the city walls, but the wild and rugged peaks of the Scottish Highlands and Irish hills. It has been standard belief that only rivers and glaciers effectively define the surrounding mountainous landscape, but now scientists believe rain can erode a landscape quickly enough to essentially 'suck' the rocks out of the Earth, effectively pulling mountains up very quickly. The Celtic landscape with its harsh winters and relentless rain not only births
staggeringly dramatic rock formations, but indestructible plant life. Bracken and coarse highland heather along with the ancient weather beaten Donegal trees make our landscape a textural haven for artists.
If its chocolate-box alpine meadows with snowy peaks that gets your creativity going, this is not your land. Surviving a climb in this, sometimes cruel and almost taunting mountain weather, will be rewarded (on a clear peak) with views that take your breath away, a geologic profile that takes you back to a prehistoric era, and in the remote Highlands of Scotland..a feeling of complete wild isolation, that would have you convinced you were the first to ever summit.
Now that I hopefully have enticed some of you out there, my aim on this blog is simply to record as best I can the hikes that I do, that have inspired some artwork and will hopefully inspire you too to get out there. Although the Scottish Highlands have been home to mountaineers longer than there have been mountains, its a completely different story over here in the North West of Ireland. Hiking as a sport has definitely become more popular here in recent years and has seen a surge with the pandemic. However, little is known about so many routes, with eroded paths that have barely seen human contact it makes me wonder why there is so little hiking information, blogs or advertisement on the stunning trails around us. The first hike I'm sharing with you is also a huge 'first' for myself. Its the first solo hike on this Emerald Isle. Having a highland hiking history, I'm ashamed to admit I was indeed a mountain snob. So when I set off on my Wild Atlantic Way trail, I wasn't just carrying some day old (but still unbelievably good) Scarpello sourdough, but a bag full of prejudice. 'Will I be even high enough for a view?.. I think they used these rolly hills in the teletubby backdrop'..etc..etc. Shameful but true. And did I eat my hat?
With great enthusiasm.
As it turns out there are spectacular hill walks right on our doorstep here in the northwest, its just that not many people know about them. Another aspect that I always let put me off was the transportation infrastructure in the North West, the network is limited to say the least and without a car it can take quite a lot of organising and in some cases just plain impossible unless you want to hitch hike. Personally, I watch too many Scandinavian Noirs to justify this option. So with a bus change and a semi-reliable timetable I was on my way to Crummie's Bay to start my Urris hills to Raghtin Mor ridge hike. Crummie's Bay is the beautiful cove like beach to the right of Dunree Fort which is worth a trip itself.
This is a fairly challenging nine mile walk northeastwards across a line of hills sculpted during the ice age. The Urris hills consisting largely of ancient quartzite reach the road at Mamore Gap, an approximate halfway point and a keen road for cyclists and tourists looking for 'The Magic Road' (Apparently when you drive forwards it feels like you are going backwards.) A steady climb over Mamore follows more peaks to Raghtin Mor with a
path following to the final drop to the road at “The Rusty Nail” pub. Hoorah.
From Crummie's Bay the first of the Urris peaks start on the east of the beach, there is little to no path at this point but one can be quickly determined as you begin to plateau on the ridge. If you wish to take a detour, follow the hillside round northeast, about midway, to discover the site of the World War ll British Bomber crash of 1941, where 6 pilots perished after getting lost in thick fog. Many remnants can still be found there and is an incredible piece of relatively undisturbed history. I missed this as I was restricted with time but will be back with my girls next time to take a look.
Motor on, through damp bog and bracken towards Lederg and Crockfadda (485). At the top look back and admire the views across Lough Swilly towards Muckish and Errigal to the south. As you traverse the line of hills towards Mamore Gap, you will pass two lakes on the left. Lough Fad is a long narrow lake of dark water lying between steep hills below. Lough Fad contains Arctic Char, an ancient fish species left after the ice age.
Crunlough is followed by Climb Cnoic Iorrais (418m), the highest point of Urris, which leads to Croaghcarragh (365m) ahead. It was at this point that I saw a Golden Eagle slice through the air from above me all the way down the right side of the mountain with such speed and grace that I didn't dare fumble for my camera and miss the moment. I was in disbelief of it's wingspan, having never seen one this close. I later found out from a fellow hiker that Golden Eagles are in fact extremely rare in Donegal and the only reported place of them being spotted is Glenveagh National Park.
At this point double check your map as the paths can become a bit misleading, as you descend onto Mamore Road, keep your eye out for a path falling down to the left, it will lead you to Mamore Gap and just before is a holy well devoted to St Eigne. A Mass is held here every August 15th in commemoration of Pagan Times when locals practiced their religion secretly to avoid persecution.
Now this is where you do not relay on mountaineering apps but good old fashioned maps and boy did I learn this the hard way. After my phone losing battery and having arranged a 5pm lift home from 'The Rusty Nail' I started to panic looking up at Mamore hill that I couldn't see a path. This leads back to my highland hiking snobbery that I was under the illusion that this hike would be so straightforward and the weather was so glorious that heading straight across the ridge in a northeasterly direction was all I needed to, no map memorising needed here. Again, shame on me. Always memorise or indeed bring a map folks, know how to read it, no matter how clear a day it is, do not underestimate the mountains, especially on a solo hike. This is probably blatantly obvious advice to most experienced hikers out there, I would
never dream of such a thing in the Highlands but as I say...I was cocky and lessons have been learned.
Now I know what you are thinking, at the end of the day if you are really stuck and can't find the route you can always head down to the road, its not the end of the world. Well for me and my ego it is, and there was no way I was not completing this 2nd leg, was now very pushed for time, so climbed straight up Mamore..I'm talking nearly 40mins of steep, unnecessary scrambling. Not recommended. It was all a bit much for a post-lockdown psyche, where my usual stressors are now ' My slippers are not were I left them last night' kind of thing.
But once I got over my bit of cliffhanger drama I was at the top of Mamore hill (423m) Continue northeast towards the eastern end of a stony path which can be seen in the valley below. From here find your way to the top of Crockmain (460m). And when I say 'find I mean 'find'. There is very little in the way of discernible paths throughout this second half of the hike. Raghtin More with its impressive cairn can be seen ahead. Continue northeast and climb steeply over heather and sharp quartzite slabs to reach the top of Raghtin More (502m) and its high cairn. The views from here are spectacular. Raghtin Beg provides a panoramic view from Dunaff to the west ove to Tullagh Bay, Pollan Bay and beyond Malin Head.On a clear day Scotland and the islands can be seen clearly which for me was moving to feel so close to home. Continue towards Crocklacky below, through heather and bracken to reach the saddle. Contour around Crocklacky and descend towards the road, staying to the right hand side past the quarry to reach the 'Rusty Nail' pub and where I was relieved to find three young girls cheering for their 'Rebel Girl' mammy.