This leg of the Dingle Way was advertised as the most challenging and it certainly was. We took 7 ½ hours (including breaks) to hike 15.3 miles up and over a saddle in the Brandon Mountains. The closer we got to this leg, the more talk turned to danger and warnings. Most people indicated that the hike can be dangerous and should not be attempted in poor conditions. We paid heed of course, and knew that the Way would be wet and sloggy at points, but decided to forge ahead given the solid forecast showing little or no rain and temperatures in the 50s.
Our only concern was the low-lying cloud cover. We couldn’t see the peak of Brandon Mountain at the start - in fact, we still haven’t ever seen it! We passed a local within 30 minutes of the start and asked if he thought the clouds might lift for us today and he replied “No, but stick close to the markers and you’ll be fine”. He was a mighty soothsayer. The clouds never dispersed and we made it through a-ok.
We picked up a couple of extra hikers bringing us to a party of five, and while I’m sure we all would’ve loved clear blue skies overhead, the cloud layer added a memorable element to the day. Our hike began with partly cloudy skies and gorgeous views behind. As we climbed, I made sure to periodically stop and turn around since the view ahead was nothing to note, just hill, hill, hill, and hikers. Each time I turned, the view became a bit…softer, until finally it disappeared entirely.
Once solidly in the cloud layer, we were shrouded in mist. Our guide book said we might find it difficult to see the brown Way markers - we did - and we may be grateful for intermediate white markers - we were. We reached the 2100-foot col to find our one antiquity for the day, an ancient Ogham stone. Ogham is a medieval alphabet dating to the fourth century AD and consists of short lines usually carved along the edges of a flat stone. Our stone’s inscription reads “Ronan the priest, son of Comgan.”
I’ll give a shout out to the English: Thanks for the unfinished military road! It made the uphill climb a nice gradual ascent with decent footing. But why oh why couldn’t you have extended it over the other side?
The first quarter-mile of the descent was very steep with dicey footing and more than one in our party slipped and fell. Once again there was no Way to speak of. You simply saw a marker in the distance and tried your best to get to it through water-logged terrain.
This proved to be the messiest day by far, but I enjoyed the change-up and challenge. We eventually reached a gravel road and the hike remained on gravel or tarmac to the finish.
O'Connor's Guesthouse wins hands-down as the lodging most accommodating to hikers. They offered a sink and hose out back to rinse muddy shoes and clothes, an outdoor clothesline for drying, and two electric shoe driers inside - wonderful!
I’ll leave you with the most enigmatic road sign we’ve encountered to date. We’ve come up with our own ridiculous interpretations, but what’s your take?
And here's your gratuitous selfie for the day: