Sunday, 17 February 2013

Benbulben.Benwisken.Dartry Mountains.Ireland Part Two.

We were so lucky with the weather over in Ireland. A week before the trip heavy snowfalls had covered most of Ireland and the mountains but by the time we arrived sans ice axes, crampons, and walking poles it had melted again. According to Graeme, Ireland does seem to get a milder winter climate than Scotland whose  high mountains were still blanketed with snow and ice. Worth noting if you are thinking of coming here.
Our second day in Ireland saw us wake early to a beautiful morning and we packed quickly then shot off on good wide roads towards the Dartry Mountains which span the borders of County Lettrim and County Sligo. This was only an hour's car journey away from where we were based in Donegal.
The two photographs above are Graeme and Handsome Bob(not me, sniff sniff) heading up the slopes to one of the most spectacular and eye-catching peaks in the country. Benwisken, with its extraordinary, never forgotten once seen, breaking wave cliffs.
 We went up this by driving up a minor tarmac road leading into the central basin between Benwisken and Benbulben. There is a circular layby just before a small bridge on an upper slope. Do not block the road here as it is used regularly by peat cutters.(turf in Ireland.)
Some of the Dartry Mountains have access problems as most sit on private land and its up to individual farmers and landowners to grant permission. Benwisken in particular  has suffered from this in the past.
Having walked in Scotland and abroad for many years I thought I knew the mountain regions of Europe fairly well but Ireland might as well have a 'Here be dragons' and a blank space drawn over most of it. I vaguely knew the names of the Irish 3000's footers but anything else was a complete mystery to me. I suspect a lot of hill folk outside Ireland are the same. Apart from Paddy Dillon's excellent book there does not seem to be much out there in the way of  mountain guide books.
(There may be more locally but I,m just not aware of it, being a novice to the area.)
The white blob on the pinnacle above is a death defying sheep, of which more later.
This is handsome bob standing dutifully on the very edge of the breaking wave cliffs just below the summit. Extremely exposed on the edge, looking down, as you can imagine. Even the slope behind him in this photo is grass set at a ridiculously steep angle. He is standing out on a narrow rib here. I didn't stay out there long myself. The Dartry Mountains are made up of layers of limestone  on top of mudstones and look pretty friable. Not good for Rock Climbing on this peak anyway.
This is a cracking link for  great photos, myths and history of the area by folk who know its secrets intimately. Well worth a look. Beautifully created. The 5 min video of the ascent of Ben bulben is brilliant and it features a good looking young man. (Well ,better looking and younger than me anyway. Photos are much better than mine as well. Sniff Sniff. Ah well I suppose he's got more time to pick his viewpoints being a local. Only fair. At the bottom of this  remarkable link's first page is a stunning photo of Benwisken and a gateway portal of a journey into the highest caves in Ireland.
Wonderful images inside a limestone treasure. We had a drive under them but it was almost dark by that time
Looking into the wild interior of the Dartry Mountains. Ireland has been such a joy for me as its like turning back time 40 years to my first sight of Suilven, Stac Polly, An Teallach, Liathach and Slioch in Scotland.
Every new view is a surprising wonder here. Fresh and exciting.

A view of our approach route up Benwisken and the deep layers of peat encountered all along the plateau. Some of these peat beds were ten to fifteen feet deep. Not only Donegal has a thriving industry in turf  for home fires it seems as the entire basin below the mountain had folk busy digging. .
Not snow but bags of turf bagged and ready for collection. Benwisken was enough for Graeme and Bob but I was fired with excitement for a new area and wanted to carry on to do Benbulben, the bookend companion on the other side of this huge corrie. With the peat bags below looking like tents it reminded me of  the film Zulu Dawn and the horns of the Buffalo surrounding the soldiers as both Benwisken and Benbulben rear up at either end of a curving central basin. Benbulben is Irelands very own Table mountain incidentally so I might have been influenced by that.
Benbulben was reputed to be the home of the Fianna, The half mythical bands of fighting outcasts, inspiration for many plays and stories. This is also Yeats country, as the poet,writer  and Nobel prize winner grew up in Sligo and knew this area well.
I jogged across most of this escarpment edge, something I haven't done for many years, certainly not uphill anyway but I was inspired that day and ran for miles. In places it resembled the Trotternish ridge on Skye. Took just over an hour to reach the summit of Benbulben and the ground in places between the peaks looked as if it had been subjected to battlefield mortar fire. Hundreds of green sink holes where the earth had collapsed inwards dotted the plateau, some of them twenty feet deep and steep sided with snow still in the bottom away from any sunlight.
Benbulben itself was just a flat broad summit but it did have extensive views. You don't tend to meet many hill walkers on the lesser Irish peaks, even one's as noticeable as these. Only a faint path to the summit where a small plaque informed me that someone had died up here recently. Australian guy I think attracted by the pull of walking across mountains on Europe's furthest shoreline. As it faces the full force of the Atlantic storms coming in it can get savage up here in winter I'd imagine.
View from the summit over Sligo Bay.
Benbulben summit from the minor road.
I took this close up of the uniform cliffs under the summit but it was only when I uploaded it I saw the sheep grazing halfway up the cliffs. It doesn't look like snow but if you look closely it does appear to be sheep on an almost impossible angle of slope.
Maybe over generations of grazing flocks on this mountain the sheep here have developed mountain goat like characteristics.
This is the roughly same area seen side on during my descent as the light was fading.
Ireland. It is indeed a remarkable place.

Video is another one from the archives. Marsha Hunt singing Dr John's Classic about voodoo,  half seen things creeping through the darkness, and yellow belted joy zombies coming to steal your eyes. Brilliant version.


Carol said...

Those hills look very spectacular indeed - I'd have had to have gone on and bagged the other hill too. Where's Alex lately? He hasn't been putting much out on his own blog - is he okay?

As to the video - I love the chalice/malice rhyme! I'm sure her boobs are creeping out from under that top as she gyrates though!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol.
Fantastic area for a mountain trip. Had to jog across the plateau to make it to the summit then down to the road before it got dark. Not too keen these days doing unfamiliar mountains on my own after nightfall. Very steep descent, sore on the toes.
Alex is fine he's just focused on the Corbett's these days. I was out with him last weekend on the hills near Newtonmore, Just not had time to post that one yet.
Marsh Hunt used to be Mick Jagger's girlfriend once upon a time.
Alex was off having an adventure of his own when we were in Ireland.

Carol said...

Oh well, so long as Alex is well and not struck down with some lurgy again! :-)

Couldn't believe those cliffs on that photo where you took of a full frontal shot of them - incredible!

The Glebe Blog said...

I've driven past Benbulben many a time Bob. You'd see my wee hill, Cuilcagh from the top. Sligo is a great county for coast and mountain. Back in the days when I wasn't into climbing hills, I've great memories of watching horse racing on Enniscrone beach, playing golf on the links at Strandhill with my american in-laws, and lots of visits to the waterfalls at Glencar.
Didn't you get a chance to see Yeat's headstone at Drumcliff?
It's got to be one of the most iconic headstone verses ever.

I seem to remember seeing Marsha Hunt in the nude in Men Only (not mine, it just happened to be open in the mess room at that page..........honest!), she'd been in the musical Hair I think.

blueskyscotland said...

To Carol
I can truthfully say I never noticed Ms Hunt's jiggly bits until you pointed them out.
For me its all about the music ,the lyrics, the Mojo and the vibe.
Years ago in the Dolomites a twenty something girl peed right next to me on a backpacking trail and I never noticed that either...I was too busy admiring The view of Monte Pelmo. (I was told about it afterwards.)

blueskyscotland said...

Loved it over there Jim.
Never got around to the headstone. It was pitch black by the time we left the hill and the next day was poor weather so we spent all day working in Graeme's garden earning our keep.
Talking about earning our keep. Just watched 'Goggle and the world Brain' tonight. Absolutely shocking.
They already have a digital record
of millions of out of print but still copywrited books from all over the world without asking the authors permission to do so.
Brand new books, music and films are already free to download or buy for under £3 pound anyway in every supermarket.
No wonder the world economy is shrinking while a few mega companies make vast profits at the expense of everyone else. And hire expensive lawyers to pay F*** all tax.
Meanwhile governments hire morally bankrupt soulless cretins to demonize and punish the disabled, the mentally ill and the vulnerable in our society and accuse them of being Lying thieving B******'s.
Only a short time after praising the same groups during the Para-Olympics and patting themselves on the back for raising awareness towards disability in society.
I Know who the real Lying thieving B*******s are and its not the folk supporting the wide base of the pyramid.
This modern concept of 'everything should be free' is bullshit as well.
Do they think Authors, musicians, actors, directors and craftsmen are going to spend years working on a project if they are not going to get some reward for it at the end.
What about all the people being cheated out of a reasonable income if its distributed free. I'm not talking about the high profile, highly paid few but the mass of ordinary punters in these industries who are now earning buttons. Do they have money to spend on the economy? Are they going to bother writing or creating anything else if there is nothing to show at the end of it.
I love Books, films and music but I firmly believe I'm watching the end of a golden era when you actually expected and wanted to pay a fair amount of hard earned cash for a product you cared about in order for it to continue.
End of rant.

The Glebe Blog said...

I'm in complete agreement Bob.
It's time to watch one of my favourite films again soon.
'Brassed Off' here I come.

Robert Craig said...

Great area, this makes me want to go back. Visited Donegal and Sligo on my first ever trip to Ireland, didn't realise we were there on St Patrick's Day! Went up Knocknarea on the day itself, locals in their finery taking a walk up this wee hill with a massive view over Sligo Bay, giant prehistoric cairn and warm spring sunshine... time to plan another holiday I think!

Neil said...

Some cracking hills there Bob. Not an area that I've been to and unfortunately its unlikely that I will go now- too many hills yet to do in Scotland in my senior years! But never say never!!