Arderin, Slieve Bloom Mountains, Co Laois
Start From the village of Camross, Co Laois, follow the signs for Glendine. Park on the Offaly/Laois border at the top of the gap.
Heading up the serpentine Glendine Gap, it suddenly occurs to me how long I have been away. Once a devotee of these ancient, rounded hills with a majestic title that evokes images of luxuriant peaks and floral valleys, I gradually drifted away to bigger, more vertical scenery.
Lack of expansive lakes and five-star peaks, combined with the often tedious, overplanted terrain, undoubtedly contribute to Ireland’s most centrally located mountains being neglected by many fellwalkers.
I am back because I have unfinished business with the Slieve Blooms. Despite many rambles over these heathery tops, I have never made the highest point. Today, I intend putting this right.
Of modest stature, even by Irish standards, the Arderin (height of Ireland) was once inexplicably regarded as Ireland’s tallest mountain. It is just half the height of Carrauntoohil, but it was historically important as a place of pagan assemblies and Lughnasa over-indulgences.
Until recently, the isolated peak required a considerable effort to reach. Completion of a road following an ancient slí through Glendine makes it now eminently accessible, so I am back to battle with a summit that has long taunted me from a distance.
The drive is breathtaking with great declivities tumbling below, leaving me in no doubt as to why Glendine means deep glen. Reaching the highest point, I park and then, in the chill of a black wind, point my boots for Arderin.
Rather incongruously, my ascent starts as a descent into a ravine where I follow a muddy track uphill taking the right hand option at a divide. Flattened summits now become visible, making it difficult to believe these once soared to alpine altitudes. Among Ireland’s oldest mountains, the Blooms have been reduced by relentless weathering to a shadow of their former selves.
It occurs to me that, these days, the powerful attraction of these elderly hills lies, not with the summits, but with the many wonderfully sequestered glens. These once supported vibrant communities and still hold fascinating monuments to past human endeavour.
Arderin turns out a peak bagger’s dream. In 20 minutes I am on the summit, which is marked by a cairn and buried trig pillar. Clearly the whaleback mountain top offered plenty of space for the singing, dancing, and merrymaking associated with the ancient Festival of Lughnasa, although I can’t help wondering if the heathery terrain hindered these festivities. Otherwise, it is a tad underwhelming, for the reward hereabouts lies with distance.
Arderin is reputed to offer a 15 county vista. This I can't confirm, but certainly it gifts an all-embracing panorama for there are few nearby highlands to circumvent the view. Alone, I stand in December chill, intoxicated by the thought that almost half of Ireland is laid out beneath my feet. Then, retracing my steps, I conclude, the "Height of Ireland" is for a clear day when the extensive prospect offers extravagant reward for minimum effort.