Go Walk: The Black Valley, Co Kerry

A view worth investigating: Take the route to the east of the Feabrahy Ridge, writes Tony Doherty

The Black Valley, Co Kerry

Map: Ordnance Survey, Discovery Series, 1:50,000, sheet 78. The 1:25,000 reeks map is easier to read.
Start/finish: Just above zig zags on the road at south end of Gap of Dunloe.
How to get there: From the N71 Killarney to Kenmare road, turn on to the Sneem Road (R568) at Moll’s Gap. Take next right and when you pass the church and youth hostel, take turn for Gap of Dunloe. There’s room for a few cars to park at the zig zags.
Time: Six hours
Distance: 10km Total ascent : 900m
Suitability: Hard - rain gear, boots, map and compass essential.
Food and accommodation: Hostel and B&Bs locally, otherwise Kenmare or Killarney

The Magillycuddy Reeks Range is the main magnet for mountaineers in this country. The presence of three large car parks at the foot of the massif and the many well eroded tracks that have been gouged into its slopes are testimony to this. It is rare these days to find yourself on your own on any of these routes.

However, the southern slopes of the Reeks, which tower above the Black Valley, are almost pristine as they are not as accessible. But there is a route that starts to the east of the Feabrahy Ridge, a formidable spur, which marks the entrance to this isolated glen and which deserves exploration.

Just above the zig zags on the road leading into the Gap of Dunloe there is a single wire stretched between two fence posts, which you can duck under and head diagonally uphill towards the higher end of the copse of trees on the edge of the Derrycarna River. This small stream has cut a deep ravine into the thick glacial deposits that cloak the slopes. Further up, the sides get more precipitous and this is the best place to cross. The depth of the boulder clay here is evidence of the size of the glacier which formed the Black Valley, a distributary of which spilled northwards over a col in the reeks to create the Gap of Dunloe.

Continue diagonally upwards on grassy ground to the chaos of massive boulders that form the lip of the coom that dams the Lough Googh tarn. On a calm day, the still waters of the little lake reflect the great cliffs which partly encircle it. To get on to the Feabrahy Ridge, walk west along the lip and work your way up among the rock outcrops onto a short level section on its crest. From here it is a steep but straightforward slog up to the summit of Cnoc na Péiste (Hill of the Serpent). I’ve always thought that this is one of the best viewing spots on the reeks. To the east stretches the formidable arête of Cumeenapeasta, while to the west a smoother path winds towards Carrauntoohil, whose ravaged north face dominates the Hag’s Glen.

Now you are here, what to do? The hard option is to scramble across the arête to An Cruach Mhór, drop down to the col at Eisc an Bhráca and then make your way carefully down to the Derrycarna River; a route for the experienced mountaineer.

If you want an easier option, stroll west along the ridge as far as Cnoc an Chuillinn and then retrace your steps back to the start. On a sunny summer’s day the landscape features are gradually flattened by the heat haze from the overhead sun as you climb. But as you return, the blazing orb begins its descent down its arc to the horizon; the horizontal rays create shade and light changes which bring the landscape to life. It’s like a familiar old painting being restored before your eyes.


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