Ireland, Travels

Two of the Seven Sisters: Errigal and Muckish

The landscape in Donegal is mountainous and defined by its two mountain ranges. County Donegal, in Ulster, is mainly formed by the Derryveagh range, and the land around it has Ireland’s lowest population density. Derryveagh has seven high peaks which are know as the Seven Sisters, and the highest of these is Errigal.

Errigal is one of Ireland’s most popular climbing destinations, and during the summer months the small parking area in its shadow is often full. Errigal is an easy climb, and the only more adventurous part on your way to the top is to cross a tiny area of bogland – although, even getting your shoes wet doesn’t really get you into the tramping mood among all the other tourists on their Sunday walks. On Errigal’s 751 metre high pathway to the top, you encounter both families and groups of friends, and the day I did the hike, the accent referred to Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland rather than to the Republic – which caused some jokes between my hiking companions until they remembered the foreigner tramping behind them.

But even though the climb with regular hellos and how-are-yous wasn’t the most uplifting hiking experience I believe that the scenery from the top of Errigal would be magnificent and worth the trouble. Unfortunately, my scenery was covered with masses of foggy clouds just when we reached the first peak, so we couldn’t make our way to the next, main peak.

Almost on top of Errigal!

Almost on top of Errigal!

On top of Muckish!

On top of Muckish!

But a month later I got my redemption on top of Muckish (the main photo). Muckish is also one of the Seven Sisters, and it is terrifyingly high – 666 metres. As a personal addition let me just say that I cancelled my first date with my man to climb this peak. But all is well that ends well and so forth!

The Irish name for Muckish is An Mhucais, which means pig’s back, and the difference to the often photographed triangle of Errigal is notable. From afar, Muckish doesn’t seem as dramatic as Errigal but on the top you get your reward: this is best of arid Ireland.

A few words about getting to the top follow.

Miners Track.

Miners Track used by the former workers of a quarry.

If there is a pathway to the top, I or my friend didn’t see it. We didn’t want to take the dangerous looking old Miners Track, so we made an action plan to approach the peak from behind. The climb required some spiritual and physical effort, and multiple little tea breaks – I think the many philosophical topics talked over during the climb were invented just to postpone continuing our way up. Then, on the top, we learned from a family that the “pathway” (pathway really is an overstatement of the route we had chosen in the lack of any visible ways to get to the top) we had just taken was a strenuous one: the dad had made the same mistake the first time he climbed Muckish, laughed that at least he had learned from his mistake, and then continued jogging down the hill.

But to us the other option, the rocky quarry way, seemed even more dubious from the top than it had seemed from the ground and so we decided to choose the soft and grassy, a tiny bit marshy, way we had got up. The reasoning behind this choice was that if we should trip and fall when trying to get back down again, at least we would land on something soft. So down we crawled.

But as said, all is well that ends well, and soon enough we found ourselves toasting like heroes in a close by pub Glen, in a tiny village called Glen.

As an experience Muckish was more memorable than Errigal because, apart from that one family, we didn’t see a soul climbing the hill. And the top of Muckish is like a picture from the moon: rocks and piles of rocks. I felt like I could have reached the massive cloud above by jumping, and apart from the howling of the wind it felt that the clouds had covered the Earth in eternal silence. The atmosphere was sacred, and I didn’t wonder why there was a wooden cross on top of Muckish.

The scenery around was so magnificent that if it wasn’t for the prospect of a pint in Glen I might still be sitting on top of a rock, just below the clouds of Donegal.


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