A tough but rewarding walk to Wicklow's most remote and lonely place
Walk for the Weekend: Cleevaun Range, Co Wicklow
This is a tough walk. Underfoot it’s hard going and navigation in misty conditions is a real challenge. And don’t expect boardwalks or signposts or tracks or trails to ease or guide you. The remote fastness of Wicklow will be your playground, as you wander that arc of largely unfrequented hills between the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Gap.
To the north are the infrastructure scars of Kippure and busy processions up Maulin and Djouce; to the south are the infrastructure scars of Turlough Hill and the paths and pop appeal of Lugnaquilla. To east and west stretch JB Malone’s aptly called “heather deserts”, and, away beyond them, the sea and even Snowdonia and the great central plain of the midlands.
The Cleevaun Range is as God, and his agents of tropical and glacial weathering, deep time and sheep grazing, bequeathed to us. And He didn’t make it easy! Conditions range from sloppy wet cols through clinging peat to tedious mazes of up-and-down gullies. These are not mountains to stride out over, head high listening to the larks. Rather, their challenge is one of tedious route-finding over hidden hummocks and hollows, no step the same as the previous, often made all the worse by snow and/or mist.
But all that said, this is a great walk along the only Wicklow skyline that looks the same from east and west, the nearest thing to a “spine” in these hills. And for those of us aspiring to claim to “know” the Wicklow Hills, it’s a veritable rite of passage. It will bring you over the second and third highest mountains in Wicklow (Mullaghcleevaun and Tonelegee) and introduce you to the wild windblown waters of Cleevaun Lough, Wicklow’s most remote and lonely place, and to sheep who will wonder why you’re there.
I started at the Wicklow Gap on an autumn day of hazy, high skies and a south wind. Within 45 minutes I was over Tonelegee (817m) and taking in the great glacially rent chasm of Ouler, once seen as a possible pumped-storage generating station. The whole curving line of hills out to Carrigvore, above the Sally Gap, was now clear to me, at the same time exhilarating and worrying, but at least I would have no navigation challenges.
Three hours later I was lunching on Mullaghcleevaun (849m), my energy drained in the never-ending maze of the col below Barnacullian and on the vast deserts of eroded peat short of the summit. I skirted the east top of Mullaghcleevaun, momentarily thrilled to be alone in the company of sky and massive boulders and tors, and the wild waters of pristine little Cleevaun Lough. The ups and downs over Duff Hill, Gravale and Carrickvore were tough and tedious, but taking only slightly from the immense privilege of being there.
The long stroll from Carrickvore to the Sally Gap car park was easy, and opened up a lovely new vista to the east and the prospect of a very welcome pickup down on the Military Road.
Map: Sheet 56
Start/finish: Sally Gap or Wicklow Gap
Effort: 850m of climbing; 15km; about 6hrs
Suitability: high level of fitness; mountain navigation skills essential