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Planning to walk Ireland’s Highest Points

Want to get off the beaten track and see little visited parts of Ireland?

The “County Tops” challenge involves walking to the highest point in each county in Ireland. With 26 peaks involved this means you’ll be out once every two weeks if you wish to complete the task within a year. Read on to find out what’s involved.


Backroad in the Slieve Blooms

Driving to the Glendine Gap, Slieve Bloom Mountains

There’s a lot of driving to be done. If you are based in Dublin and you hike each mountain on an out-and-back basis then you’ll cover more than 8,000 kilometers during your quest.

With this in mind it would make good sense to:

  • ensure that your car is in good nick for long drives
  • get yourself AA or other roadside assistance. I used the services of the AA just once on a remote road in the Slieve Blooms and saved myself an awful lot of hassle. This incident alone proved the worth of membership to me.
  • SatNav is very handy for getting yourself to precisely where you want to start walking.  You’ll be driving on some tiny windy roads so don’t spend half your time poring over a map or worrying about parking at the right spot.
  • “Base Camp” your car. Having spare clothing, water, food and other gear stashed in your boot is handy, particularly given the bad weather we’ve experienced during 2010 when an unexpected stop on an isolated road is more likely than ever. It’s comforting to know you have spare gear around if you or someone else should need it when the weather turns nasty before you set off for your hike.

Planning your peaks

Take a look at the map and you’ll see that the county high points are widely dispersed around the country. [Yes, I know, there should be one in each county!] They range from rolling hills suitable for children to rugged peaks that should not be taken lightly.

Before doing the County Tops I had spent plenty of time in the hills around Dublin and Wicklow but rarely with a map in hand or a specific objective, so I started tackling the county tops based on their proximity to Dublin and perceived ease, gradually taking in lengthier walks as the days got longer and my route-finding confidence grew.

By necessity I walked 12 of the hills on my own. This kind of carry on is not advised but I think that with due caution and by letting others know your destination etc. it’s fine and offers a very different experience to hiking in company.

My scheduling advice would be to consider which mountains you are most interested in and plan to visit them during the months of most light. For example, it was only when November rolled around that I realised that I simply wouldn’t have enough daylight to safely attempt to summit Carrauntoohil via a classic route like the Coomloughra horseshoe. So, if you want to spend a long day in the Mournes tackling Donard and several other peaks you’d be best not to leave this ’till the winter. This applies for Benbaun, Mweelrea, Galtymore and many of the other mountains which merit lingering exploration rather than a smash and grab raid!

Ideally you would take a weekend to climb each hill getting the best out of the surrounding peaks but this just isn’t always possible. I completed all but four of the peaks in single day outings, which shows just how far infrastructure in Ireland has come in recent years. I reckon that with an early start you could climb any of the County Tops in one long day but the debilitating effect of driving while tired needs to be kept in mind.

How do I get there?

I usually pick my walking route first, see below, before hitting the OSI online map, the actual map sheet or google maps to find a precise parking location. Then that information gets entered into the GPS device for the drive down. [Hint: The quality of maps available in the OSI online map viewer was downgraded during 2010, however if you click on the Wind Report setting you’ll get a shaded view of the original 1:50,000 maps]

Google Streetview can also be handy for checking out where you might park. I find it’s great if you can check out what the location looks like so you can recognise it when you get there. What happened to the wonder of discovery I hear you say…

Where to park in Glencorbet for a hike up Benbaun in the Twelve Bens, Galway

Park just past this point in Glencorbet, before heading up Benbaun in the Twelve Bens, Co. Galway. Taken from Google Street View.

What routes can I follow?

Route information can be found here on this blog in the description for each mountain. You’ll generally find a variety of routes described on, and on paper you might consider books like Josh Lynam’s Best Irish Walks and Paddy Dillon’s Mountains of Ireland.

How long will it take?

I have usually indicated how long my walk took. I find that many people don’t include this information which seems odd to me as I like to know these things. Of course you should have an ability to read the map and use Naismith’s rule to estimate your walking time too.

Is it easy or hard?

One man’s easy is another man’s heart attack so it can be hard to tell. In my posts I have generally tried to indicate how I found the walk but ultimately, the fitter you are and the more walking you do the easier you’ll find any hike. If you aren’t sure of your abilities start with the lower hills and see how you get on before embarking on the toughies like Mweelrea, Donard or Carauntoohil.

What map do I need?

Map and compass image showing Slieve Beagh and parts of Monaghan, Tyrone and Cavan

You'll need your map and compass

I’ve listed what map is required for each of the walks in individual blog posts, and in the High Points of Ireland table, where you’ll find all the county tops listed in one place.

In general, even if the walk looks very short and straightforward you do need the map and the ability to read it! Getting lost is not much fun and the clouds can come down quickly obliterating your view. Some of the County Tops are well off the beaten track so you can’t rely on other people being around to give you an indication that you are on the right track. As I mentioned above I walked 12 of the hills on my own and saw  just 3 other people during those hikes.

The OSI’s print schedule for maps seems to be very erratic with the result that some of the maps are difficult to find in the outdoor stores. Invariably the shops you visit will have ten copies of a sheet you don’t need and none of the one you do, so if you see a map you’re going to need at some stage in the future, buy it. During 2010 some stores like Easons and Millets had 3 for 2 offers on maps which would make bulk buying well worth your while.

After getting ‘confused’ as to my whereabouts a couple of times on my early walks I took a day course in map reading and navigation with Outdoors Ireland. As well as being great fun this provided me with much more confidence in route planning and navigation. Your local library will probably have some handy books on navigation too. It’s not rocket science, and it is empowering.

Gear for hiking

Some of the maps and gear acquired over the year

Some of the maps and gear acquired over the course of the year

Having decent gear helps. On a normal day having the proper equipment will see you walking in comfort. In tricky conditions you’re less likely to be overheated…or hypothermic.   Here’s a great run down from Tourism Pure in Mayo of the hiking gear you need for a day out on the hills.

Get out there

That’s it, get out there and see the country. You’ll figure out your own preferences for food and hot drinks as you make your way through the journey. Take lots of photos and try to take in local attractions that you may pass as you do the walks. There are tons of archaeological sites dotted around the country that will enrich your experience and might just leave you feeling more connected to this land than you were previously.

Beaghmore Stone Circles. 4000 year old neolithic site.

Beaghmore Stone Circles, en route to the Sperrins - 4000 years of history that you can have all to yourself

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Caitriona permalink
    September 16, 2011 3:08 pm

    I am having great fun this Autumn completing the peaks of Ireland… Only a few more to go!!! cat

    • September 16, 2011 3:20 pm

      Glad to hear it Caitriona,

      The Autumn can be a lovely time in the hills I think. Well done so far, I’d love to know what you have left to do.


  2. Dave permalink
    October 7, 2011 9:18 pm

    Thanks for setting up the website Murray, I’ve completed the first 3 “hills” and hope to go on to complete the 26!

  3. November 6, 2011 11:55 am

    Fantastic photograph- beaghmore is a fascinating site.

  4. February 13, 2013 2:22 pm

    I actually blog likewise and I’m publishing something related to this excellent blog post, “Planning to walk Irelands Highest Points Walking Ireland’s County Tops”. Will you mind if I personallyutilize a number of your personal tips? Thank you -Lisa

  5. Robbie williams permalink
    March 27, 2013 8:00 pm

    Hi guys.
    Got the book and glad I found the site,
    Wondering is there a ‘fastest round ‘ completed to date? and
    Also, is there a specific route needed to follow or is it a case of: just hit the trig point?

    Thank you
    Robbie williams

  6. Mike permalink
    September 4, 2020 3:43 pm

    Thanks Murray. We’re finding your website very useful and entertaining. We’ve also found that your times estimations are very realistic for us which is a great help. We’re just past halfway and are hoping to do Knockboy and Carrauntoohil this weekend. Although we’re staying in Kenmare, we may skip the chowder.

    • September 4, 2020 3:47 pm

      That’s great to hear… By coincidence I’ll be passing through Kenmare tomorrow on a race along the Kerry Way! Enjoy the hills.

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