Go Walk: Killarney’s Purple Mountain, Co Kerry

This route has spectacular views and relative ease of navigation

Purple Mountain in Killarney

Purple Mountain in Killarney


Killarney's Purple Mountain, Co Kerry

Map: Harvey Macgillycuddy’s Reeks 1:30,000.
Start/finish: Head of Gap of Dunloe to Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
Get there: car split or jaunting car back to start.
Time: 4hrs; about 10kms (excluding distance back to start); 800m of climbing.
Suitability: moderate level of fitness; knowledge of mountain navigation required.

The walker is spoiled for choice in Killarney – from the truly magnificent, airy ridges of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks to delightful and atmospheric low level hikes in ancient woodlands and along lake shores. Between these options is Purple Mountain (832 metres), with altitude, accessibility, great views, relative ease of navigation and good ground conditions.

We set out for Purple on a recent misty morning, before the Azores anticyclone had quite dispatched a stalled cold front. It was still capable of squeezing out spots of rain as we road-walked up from the Black Valley to the Head of the Gap (of Dunloe) at 239m.

There we stepped off the road onto a path to the right or east, clearly visible and clearly marked on the 1:30,000 Harvey Map of the Reeks, and soon gained the little perched glacial Glas Lough (472m). The path runs along the west/north-west shore of the lough, picking its way through the boulder moraine of the long gone glacier. At the north/north east end of the lough, it turns steeply due east, up onto the southern flank of Purple Mountain.

The high pressure system was now doing its job, lifting and shredding the cloud base as we progressed upwards. At about 600m the cloud swirled away, now hiding only the highest Reeks summits and giving us that gift so loved of hikers – the sudden dramatic unveiling of endless visibility! But visual self-indulgence was to await the even better view from the summit; so it was head down on the now easing slope as we progressed in a north/north east direction, on slightly confusing paths, to the summit.

It was just below the summit on its south side that we chose as our vantage point to savour our lunch, the view and the now-emerging warm April sunshine. The view was really wonderful; first to the west was the lofty and dramatic ridge of the Reeks, now well clear of cloud and bathed in sunshine; and from the superb vantage-point of Purple, to sit and peruse them was a real treat, knowing they were to be our mountain playground for the following two days.

But our gaze didn’t just linger on the Reeks, but also on the great brooding bulk of Mangerton to the east, that special wilderness or “outback” area of the Old Kenmare Road and the Kerry Way, the hills of the Beara Peninsula and the deep beautiful Black Valley, with shapely Broaghnabinnia almost closing its western end.

Then it was time to descend. Some of our party, aided by good visibility, took a safe but tedious route down a gully off Tomies Rock to the “Wishing Bridge” in the Gap of Dunloe. I progressed down through fairly high heather to just above Kate Kearney’s Cottage, only to backtrack to the bridge (to meet the others) instead of the recommended route down the clear path above and to the east of the Loe River to the road below the Cottage. Our penalty for inexcusable separation was to be no pint or tea in the Cottage.

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