We interview Kieron Gribbon, author of the excellent ‘Ireland’s County High Points – A Walking Guide’, the indispensable guide to walking the County Tops of Ireland. If you are interested in undertaking the challenge, have a read of Kieron’s introduction to the County Tops. You can also read our review of Kieron’s book here.
Which were the first and last County High Points that you visited?
My first County High Point was Slieve Donard in County Down. I visited it for the first time back in 1997, having taken up hill walking just the year before. On that occasion, I wasn’t actually visiting Slieve Donard as the CHP of Down, but as the highest point in Northern Ireland.
It was only while admiring the views from Donard’s summit that the idea of visiting every Irish County High Point first entered my head. Back then, I thought of it as a goal to achieve during my lifetime, but I have since learned that it can easily be completed in a year.
Mount Leinster, on the Wexford / Carlow county boundary, was where I completed my first round of CHPs. Visiting its summit in 2011 marked the end of a ten-month period of field research, surveying and photography for my book, during which I visited / revisited every CHP in Ireland.
How long did it take you to complete the challenge?
As a hill walker, it took me fourteen years to complete the challenge. As a guidebook writer, it took me ten months.
Out of all the CHPs, which were your favourites and do you plan on visiting them again?
That is a difficult question to answer. Every CHP has its own unique character and offers a completely different view of Ireland. To me, each one is a very special place which I could happily revisit time and again.
I think my favourites, however, are those of the counties along the west coast: Carrauntoohil; Mweelrea; Benbaun; and Errigal Mountain. These CHPs all stand tall above wild and rugged landscapes, and provide viewing platforms across land and sea.
I would like to emphasise that some of the most interesting CHPs in Ireland are also among the lowest. The highest point in Meath, for example, is marked by a 5,000-year-old cairn on Carnbane East, while the highest point in neighbouring Westmeath is completely surrounded by, what is reputed to be, the largest beech forest in western Europe.
It is my intention to revisit every CHP in Ireland before the end of 2013.
On a similar note, which was your least favourite CHP?
That is an even more difficult question to answer, but I can honestly say that I didn’t have a least favourite. I enjoyed visiting them all.
Had you any strange or unusual experiences whilst carrying out the challenge?
Unfortunately, I am unable to report having personally witnessed any cloud inversions, Brocken spectres or mysterious creatures during my CHP adventures. I do, however, feel very privileged to have stood on every CHP in clear viewing conditions – which I suppose is quite unusual given that this is Ireland.
Apart from getting hold of your excellent book, what advice would you give to anyone planning on taking on the challenge?
Prepare yourself accordingly for each CHP walk. While the lower CHPs might require little more than a half hour stroll, many of the higher ones take the challenger on 5-10 hour hikes through some of Ireland’s most rugged and isolated landscapes. My book states the length and difficulty of each walk, and this will help the challenger to judge what clothing and equipment is most likely to be needed on the day. Good walking boots are recommended for all walks.
Check the weather forecast before setting off, and always carry a waterproof / windproof layer just in case. The CHPs provide the longest and widest views in the whole of Ireland, therefore it is best to visit them on a clear day.
Navigation skills and equipment are essential, especially on the higher CHPs. A map and compass should be carried on all CHP walks – even if a GPS unit is being used. An in-car satnav can be big help when trying to find start points – satnav-friendly coordinates for each start point can be found in my book. Be sure to take enough food and water to last the walk – plus some extra as a backup.
Don’t take unnecessary risks – my book highlights potential hazards on the CHPs. Stay within your limits and, if necessary, build up your fitness levels before tackling the more strenuous walks. In fact, the CHP challenge itself could be treated as an alternative fitness training programme – start with the lowest (Mullaghmeen, County Westmeath) and work your way up to the highest (Carrauntoohil, County Kerry). Most of all: enjoy the challenge.
Ireland’s County High Points: A Walking Guide by Kieron Gribbon
Kieron’s excellent guide to the County Tops is available now in good bookshops, outdoor shops, amazon.co.uk, and directly from The Collins Press.