A new walk this time.
A walk to (almost) the middle of the Wicklow Mountains.
I had not attempted Mullaghcleevaun from Ballynultagh Gap before, so I was excited about this one. It looked straightforward enough on the map.
I had been to Black Hill before (many times), as part of a walk to Silsean and Moanbane, and also on it’s own and I have also been to Mullaghcleevaun before (a few times).
A couple of times, I hiked to Mullaghcleevaun via Carrigshouk, Stoney Hill (Mullaghcleevaun East Top) and then onto Mullaghcleevaun itself – it’s a good walk and I think it’s probably the easiest route of the three I describe here. Car park safety below Carrigshouk is an issue though.
Another visit to Mullaghcleevaun was via a tough (the hardest of the three routes here), five summit hike from Sally Gap -> taking in Carrigvore, Gravale, Duff Hill (tough pull up from the col between Gravale and Duff Hill), Stoney Hill and then finally Mullaghcleevaun. That was a tough day, and upon reaching Mullaghcleevaun and sitting down for lunch – I realised I had left it in the car boot. OUCH.
Yep, that was a real sinking feeling alright. I had to head back the way I came, over four mountains, with an empty belly! There was a further surprise this day, and not one I was grateful for – when I finally got back to the car – it had been broken into (though presumably, not for my lunch – which was still in the boot – and had not even been tampered with). Parking anywhere north of (and including) Sally Gap, or on the Military Road itself for any length of time is ill advised these days – but it was not this way more than four years ago when I started walking. As the hills get more popular, I fear the crime will increase.
I have had some problems with my big toe joint on my left foot for about two weeks now, so I have been resting up a bit. Weight bearing and flexing is painful, in addition, a trapped nerve in my left foot, 2nd and 3rd toes) has also been playing up (Morton’s Neuroma). A painful condition, and I often say ‘unhappy feet, unhappy person’. It’s difficult to not be irritable when standing up and walking is painful. But the resting didn’t seem to help much so I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit of ‘gentle exercise’ and attempt Mullaghcleevaun and see did the exercise help. I suspect that a lot of people would probably not classify hiking up Wicklow’s second highest mountain as ‘gentle exercise’ but I had been wanting to return here for ages! My physiotherapist gave me the go-ahead, so I rolled the dice. We’ll see in a few days if it helped or hurt, but initial reports state that the pain is still the same – so no point in resting then! Readers of this blog will know how much I hate the word ‘rest’. My physiotherapist describes my left foot as ‘very complex’ and a ‘lifelong battle’. Joy! I do wear custom orthotics but there is still the outstanding issue of Ankylosing Spondylitis, which causes me pain and is no doubt the underlying cause of my lower limb/back pain. I would say surgery is in my future!
Anyway, negativity over with – a beautiful sunny (though hazy) evening and the second highest mountain in Wicklow beckons! On with the journey…
After getting a (very) generous lift to Ballynultagh Gap car park, between Sorrel Hill and Black Hill itself – I did my usual stretches, applied a ‘metatarsal pressure pad’ to both feet (I was hoping this would help with my left foot big toe joint) and gauged the journey ahead. It looked far. No problem, car safety not an issue this day.
There is a nice path (most of the way) up to the top of Black Hill, so ascent is straightforward. Looking back over the shoulder of Sorrel Hill (at left) towards the Kilbride chain of summits – the four C’s (Seahan, Corrig, Seefingan and Seefin). Only Seahan, Seefin and Seefingan are visible in the photograph below, Corrig (the poor sibling for many reasons which I will document another time) is obscured – I must do that circuit again at some point. So many adventures to be had in Wicklow!
Wow, I am already two photographs in and I have forgotten to mention the view over Blessington and Poulaphouca Reservoir. I am getting carried away! The reservoir itself is vast and (despite appearances) man – made. Poulaphouca translates as “the Púca’s hole”. A Púca is a creature in Celtic mythology – they can be bringers of both good and bad fortune, either help or hinder rural and marine communities. The creatures were said to be shape changers which could take on the appearance of black horses, goats and hares. I’ve never seen a live one, mind. Or MAYBE I HAVE! I have seen many black horses, goats and hares in my time in Wicklow!
The view itself from Ballynultagh Gap is vast, but in my experience does not translate to a good photograph. I took one anyway!
The summit of Black Hill has no interesting features really, only a wet boggy patch and a ‘Wicklow Mountains National Park’ post. Nice views to Mullaghcleevaun though:
Looks like there is some ground to cover!
Descending the slopes of Black Hill now, heading in a south-easterly direction – a nice view of the Mullaghcleevaun massif is revealed.
Mullaghcleevaun is at right of center, at distance. Stoney Hill (the ‘East Top’), slightly left of that. Near center is a peat ditch, not really a path. Beyond that (towards the right hand side) is a labyrinth of peat hags – many of which were taller than me. Where the peat hags end, the final climb begins in earnest – a steep slope onto the broad summit of Mullaghcleevaun. Tough work going up, it was a warm evening. I was more concerned about the descent with my blinking left foot though! Trust me, that slope is steeper than it looks.
The trail I was following peters out in the gap between Mullaghcleevaun and Black Hill. The ground in the col itself is very wet, even under dry weather. Leather boots are a must!
Heading up the north-western shoulder of Mullaghcleevaun now, and there is a faint trail, one which I lost and then found again at various intervals. Not a trail that can be relied upon, so navigation skills are a must. I actually think Mullaghcleevaun can pose more problems than Lugnaquilla in some ways. It is much less frequented, so the trails are sparse and sporadic – and because you are less likely to meet other people here, if you do hit a spot of bother then help is not close at hand. The day I did this walk, I met nobody at Mullaghcleevaun. Not a single person. Granted, I did do the walk in the evening but it was a glorious evening. Some of the tortured and weathered peat hags you can expect to encounter if you do this walk:
Looking over to Silsean and Moanbane beyond Billy Byrne’s Gap just before the last pull up to Mullaghcleevaun. Yeah, I took a rest break here and had a couple of bananas and oranges. I needed some fuel!
Just over half way up the steep western slope of Mullaghcleevaun now, and some walkers have built a few navigation aid cairns. How precarious this one looked! I wondered how long it had been here, and how long until the gales blow it over. But it could have been here for years for all I know. Lovely blue skies.
Finally! At the summit now, and standing on the second highest mountain in Wicklow. And I have it all to myself, on such an amazing evening. Tonelagee looms beyond the triangulation station in the photograph below.
Because I know where many of the Trig stations in the Wicklow Mountains are, I always find it a fun game to ‘connect the trigs’ mentally. I am a nerd like that. Tonelagee has a trig and from this spot, Lugnaquilla was also visible this day, as was Djouce, Seahan, Keadeen and Kippure (which also have trigs). Connect the trigs! Try it, it’s fun!
Lots to see up here, and it is late in the day now. Only a few hours until sunset. No time for rest breaks. There are two memorials (that I know of) at the summit of Mullaghcleevaun, and a further one between Duff Hill and East Top, but I would not be going there this day.
The first memorial I visited this day was the An Óige plaque, attached to a granite boulder. This is dedicated to three Wicklow hikers who drowned at Clogher head. I composed this hoping that readers would be able to read the text, unless you are using a small phone screen! My blog is best viewed on larger screens, but if you are using a phone – the text reads:
“In perpetual memory of three Wicklow hikers who loved these hills so well:
Peter Purfield, Joseph O’Gorman, Matthew Porter – Drowned at Clogher Head July 17th 1945 R.I.P. – Erected by fellow hostellers of An Óige – 1945.”
Another view of the memorial, with the view east – Duff Hill, Gravale, War Hill and Djouce prominent in the distance.
The second memorial, which I had not seen before but made an effort to seek out this day, is dedicated to a Pat Redmond:
I have always thought the view from the summit of Mullaghcleevaun is a bit of a disappointment – it’s a large swollen hump of a summit. But (much like Lug, and Wicklow in general, really) good views can be had by dropping down to the steeper slopes of the mountain.
I opted to head to the steep ground above Cleevaun lough, nestled below the northern cliffs of Mullaghcleevaun. From here, the view north is expansive. I had wanted to drop down further – to get an undisturbed view of the lake, but mindful of my big toe pain, I opted against it. I also wanted to spend more time at the other side of the summit.
It is believed that Mullaghcleevaun (‘Summit of the Cradle’) acquired its name from the little lake:
Another photograph of the lake, with the chain of summits leading towards Sally gap at right towards center. Some low clouds rolling in from the east coast (at distance). Light easterly winds this day, but the clouds were coming this way. I figured I’d be gone before they enshroud Mullaghcleevaun.
Switching to ‘long range’ mode now, i.e. putting my Zeiss 100mm lens onto my camera – I liked the desolate and tortured ground near the lake shore.
Desolation and isolation. I liked being alone up here.
Heading back to the summit now, I wanted to find some views looking over to Tonelagee. Pausing for a photograph of a bird on some boulders against the hazy humps of Silsean and Moanbane (far right, tiny fella!).
There was a layer of mist in the atmosphere, creating hazy views south. But I quite liked it, I felt it added ‘atmosphere’. Looking over to Turlough Hill beyond the scarred peat of Barnacullian.
A view from the summit of Mullaghcleevaun, looking over to Tonelagee – the third highest mountain in Wicklow, and one I must visit again at some stage:
A similar shot, but with a different perspective. I think I like this one better. Most of my landscape photographs are taken using a 50mm or 100mm lens actually. Most people prefer wide angles (28mm or shorter) but I like to focus on scenes as opposed to ‘fitting everything’ into the shot.
Thinking about heading back now, it is getting late. But it’s wonderful up here, and it feels much ‘wilder’ than other places in Wicklow. Not a soul to be seen. Mullaghcleevaun might be second in height to Lugnaquilla, but one might argue that it is first in terms of wilderness and isolation.
Hazy views down to the south as I reunite with the earlier photographed navigation cairn. One might be terribly grateful for the handful of these scattered about the slopes of Mullaghcleevaun if descending in thick fog.
The return journey lies ahead – visibility in this direction is not perfect and the haze was getting worse as the sun dipped lower in the sky, but I actually like the presence of the mist and haze, it adds some atmosphere. A hazy view over to Black Hill and the Poulaphouca reservoir.
It look like a long way to go! But first, this labyrinth needs to be solved.
A large number of the peat banks here were much taller than I am.
Labyrinth complete, now on the shoulder of Mullaghcleevaun and a beautiful view down to Glenagoppul (with the Kilbride range in the distance) opens up. I enjoyed this view, and the large forestry areas really add a sense of scale.
Almost back at Black Hill now, and the sun is getting very low – this is the time that all landscape photographers love. During ‘Golden Hour’, as it is known (the hour after sunrise/before sunset), the landscape takes on a sort of reddish hue. Within the visible range of light, red light waves are scattered the least by atmospheric gas molecules. So at sunrise and sunset, when the sunlight travels a long path through the atmosphere to reach our eyes, the blue light has been mostly removed, leaving mostly red and yellow light remaining. Looking back to Mullaghcleevaun, we can see this reddish hue start to appear. P.S. the only ‘editing’ I performed on the below was to add my logo and website link.
It would be a rare hike that I don’t find a single lone Sitka Spruce tree, and I found one this day!
The final push back down Black Hill where my kind and patient chauffeur had returned, and was waiting to collect me. No car breaks in this day!
I do dread descent much more than ascent. You are tired, probably hungry and all the weight of your pack is keenly felt in your lower extremities. The pack always feels much heavier on the way down! At least there is a straightforward path!
Last light over a red Mullaghcleevaun. It was like a Martian scene. I did not ‘jazz’ this up in the digital darkroom, this is how it was.
Now I will leave you all be, and go and ice my big toe!
Thank you for reading!
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