It’s a question that is posed every once in a while.. which is Ireland’s most iconic mountain?
There are a number of contenders and we hope to take a walk up each of them over this series of articles. Our first walk took us to the Derryveagh Mountains in Donegal to take a walk up Errigal, a mountain whose image adorns endless postcards, travel books and websites.
At 751 metres, Errigal is the highest mountain in Donegal and it’s majestic glittering quartzite peak dominates the northwest corner of Ireland. For many, it is quite simply the most beautiful mountain in the country and it is certainly among the most climbed despite its remote location. Errigal has the magical quality of appearing to change shape depending on what direction you view it from.
Approaching from Donegal, I caught my first glimpse of the mountain that I had long wanted to climb, low-lying clouds appearing to dust it’s summit as they gusted by. The mountain completely dominates the small village of Dunlewy from where it appears as a huge mass with impressivly steep scree-covered slopes. From other angles, the serrated summit ridge resembles a series of dorsel fins.
Errigal enjoys a remote location situated overlooking the tiny village of Dunlewy in Donegal. It’s around a 3.5 hour drive from Dublin and 2 hours from Belfast. Coming from Letterkenny, follow the N56 and then turn onto the R251. Parking is available off the R251 around 1 mile before Dunlewy.
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The traditional and most popular way to climb Errigal is from the carpark off the R251. The route initially crosses some very heavily eroded and boggy ground. Head towards a very visible track rising through the shiny scree on the lower slopes of the mountain. It is really from this point that the ascent proper starts.
You are faced with a short stiff walk over the scree before reaching solid rock. From here, it’s simply a case of following the well scratched track which leads around the edge of the summit ridge to the large circular shelter. From the shelter, the widening views across to Mackoght, Altan Lough and the Aghlas are simply breathtaking. After the shelter are a number of cairns which lead onto the every-narrowing ridge with steep slopes on either side providing a degree of exposure.
My walk had been accompanied by gusting winds, the kind which you can hear approaching a few seconds before they hit you. I was glad of this warning as it gave me time to crouch down and grab some rock on my crossing of the short ridge. While proving exhilarating, climbing the mountain in windy conditions would certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Indeed, I met only a handful of others on the slopes of what is normally a very busy mountain. The ridge terminates at the first and highest of the twin summits which is the highest point in Donegal and perhaps one of the smallest mountain summits in Ireland.
On the summit, you really do feel on top of the world with the expansive views covering the coast and islands of Donegal and reputedly half of Ulster on a clear day. Immediately below lie the aforementioned masses of Mackoght and the Aghlas while a bit further afield is the Poisoned Glen and the loughs of Dunlewy and Nacung.
“Errigal looks a proper mountain and on it’s airy summit, it really feels special and it is easy to see why this stunning quartzite peak has been and continues to be revered”
The usual way to round off the climb is to take the short but exposed walk along ‘One Man’s Pass’ which leads across to the second and lower of the twin summits.
The shelter provides a good stop-off spot for refreshments after your visit to the summit and then it’s simply a case of reversing the route and returning to the roadside carpark. It should be noted that care should be taken on the descent back down the loose scree towards the base of the mountain.
Quite simply a superb mountain that belies it’s modest height and a highly recommended walk for anyone spending time in this superbly scenic area. Errigal looks a proper mountain and on it’s airy summit, it really feels special and it is easy to see why this stunning quartzite peak has been and continues to be revered. One I’ll definitely be returning to at the first opportunity.
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 first article in the series on Ireland’s Iconic Mountains.