For the first article in the series looking at Ireland’s iconic mountains, I had taken a drive up to the the North-West of Ireland to climb the beautiful Errigal. Rounding a corner on the way to Dunlewy to climb the mountain, I was met with the spectactular sight of Muckish sitting illuminated under a vivid rainbow as the surrounding landscape lay under heavy rain.
Even without this natural illumination, Muckish is a spectactular sight with it’s distinctive block visible for miles around. It is from this distinctive flat-top from which Muckish derives it’s name, the Irish being ‘An Mhucais’ which translates as ‘pig’s back’.
Muckish stands at 666 metres and is hugely impressive when viewed from several locations, perhaps mostly so from Falcarragh. It’s characteristic outline is a dominant feature of the scenery around North Donegal. The mountain is topped with an impressively large cairn which is visible for miles around and it also bears a large metal cross on the Northern edge of the summit plateau. An early start meant that I was approaching Muckish at sunrise and as the rising sun painted the Eastern slopes of Muckish in vivid colours, a pair of deer moved across my line of sight and were framed briefly by it’s huge bulk. Driving onwards to the foot of the mountain on the Southern side, an impressive rocky cliff face provides yet another striking perspective.
Muckish is just a short drive from Errigal. Approaching from Letterkenny, take the R355 towards Dunlewy a few miles after Kilmacrenan. This road meets the R251 from which spectactular views open up to Muckish. Continue along the R251 taking the turn for Falcarragh (An Fal Carrach). This road will take you to Muckish Gap and at the highest point, there is parking just after the roadside shrine.
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There are two commonly used routes up the mountain. The first is via Muckish Gap which I took for this article. The second route is by the tougher ‘Miners Track’ up the Northern side of the mountain, part of which follows the path used by workers to reach a former quarry on the flanks of Muckish.
The walk from the shrine at Muckish Gap leads initially across some boggy ground after which a short climb towards the obvious gap leads to a track. The track climbs gently around the mountain and as you progress, the summit cross and cairn eventually come into sight. At this point, you will need to leave the track and pick a path up the steep slope of the mountain. As height is gained, a prominent rocky path just below the plateau comes into view.
The next part of the walk along the rocky path makes for gentle going and leads you onto the rock-strewn summit plateau of Muckish. It’s fair to say that it is other-wordly up there, perhaps akin to walking on the moon. As you walk along the plateau, a few small cairns are passed before reaching the massive summit cairn from which a very enjoyable walk takes you to a trig pillar and then onto the cross on the northern edge of the plateau. The cross was placed on top of the mountain in 2000 to replace a wooden one which had been destroyed in a storm. I’m not a huge fan of crosses or indeed any articifial object on mountain summits but perhaps this one is understandable given the summit’s somewhat disconcerting spot height.
The best recommendation I can give to anyone walking Muckish is to make sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy the magnificent plateau and it’s panoramic views. From the cairn, there are fantastic views along the route of the famous Glover Highland Walk taking in the Aghlas, Makoght and Errigal. From the opposite end, there are contrasting views along the northern coast of Donegal taking in Rosguill in the foreground and stretching to Fanad as far as Inishowen dominated by Slieve Snaght and it’s surrounding hills. As I stood at the trig point to take a couple of photos, a vivid rainbow briefly formed over Bloody Foreland to the North-West.
After several rainy days, I had struck lucky and my walk along the summit was made in splendid November sunshine albeit with a biting gusty wind. The rocky plateau really is a wonderful place and is a real pleasure to walk although I have heard that it can be quite disorientating in mist.
Another quite superb mountain tucked away in the North-West of Ireland. Muckish gets overlooked due to it’s proximity to Errigal which lies just a few miles away. While Errigal is probably a more pleasing mountain asthetically, Muckish can boast a stunning summit plateau which offers plenty to explore as well as breathtaking panoramic views. So which is the better mountain? The answer to this subjective question is that I honestly don’t know. Perhaps the only way to find out is to walk both mountains again!
Donegal, Sligo & Leitrim: A Walking Guide
An Excellent Walking Guide from Mountain Leader Adrian Hendroff featuring 27 walks in the North-West of Ireland. An ideal companion for your walking holiday in the Donegal and Sligo region.
This is the second article in the series on Ireland’s Iconic Mountains.
Click here to see all articles from the series