Go Walk: Surreal mountain views on Slieve Snacht, Co Donegal

A walk to the roof of Inishowen with rewarding views

Slieve Snacht, Co Donegal

Map: OS Discovery 3 Get there: 5km south of Carndonagh on the R240, turn right, cross Glentogher Bridge. After 4km, cross a narrow bridge. Parking 700m later in small quarry.
Time: 4 hrs 30 mins, without stops.
Distance: 9km Ascent: 600m.
Suitability: Experienced walkers in good visibility. Open, sometimes rough, moorland.

Slieve Snacht, at 615m, is the roof of Inishowen, and this circular walk takes you there by way of its neighbours, Damph (410m) and Slieve Main (514m). From the quarry, head across moorland for Damph, a low eminence to the west. Take gate through the first fence you meet. The ascent becomes a little steeper now, but in no time Damph is conquered, and you can pause to enjoy the view. In the foreground to the southeast is the lake with no name (it’s not on the ordnance map) and beyond it, the lower hills of Inishowen. The sea to the northeast is in view to the right of Slieve Snacht, while to the east the cones of Truskmore and Grinlieve stand clear.

To the west is the undulating whaleback of Crocknamaddy and Slieve Main, our next goal. We have to lose 100m in height, dropping into the valley of the Slievemain River, before we begin to ascend it. With the highest point of Slieve Main as your goal, head straight for it, descending steeply to reach the flat valley bottom. After a dry spell, the river is only a tiny brook.

The top of Slieve Main consists of two ridges with a little valley between: we cross the valley and ascend again to reach the summit. The arrival on the rock-strewn top is rewarding. The hilly northern coast of Inishowen stretches into the haze east and west of Slieve Snacht; to the southwest Lough Swilly gleams beyond Buncrana; and a sliver of Lough Foyle is in sight to the southeast. The grey scree and brown heather of Slieve Snacht, our ultimate goal, fills the foreground to the northeast.

Our route takes us downhill eastwards towards the southern spur: the ground is rough in places and we have to lose another 100m before we start to ascend again, northwards towards the summit, with only 200m left to climb. The views are so good it is difficult not to pause on the way up and take in the vista opening up to the south.

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Soon we are on the long, stone-scattered plateau that forms the top of Slieve Snacht and heading north towards the summit, a trig point surrounded by a 2m-high stone wall. It is otherworldly, a surreal mountain graveyard scattered with many little pinnacles and cairns erected, perhaps, by overenthusiastic climbers.

The view is spectacular and uninterrupted. Beyond the windfarm on the slopes of the Urris Hills lies a stretch of Lough Swilly, and in clear weather the summits of Muckish Mountain and Errigal can be seen. Rathlin Island and the coast of Scotland are sometimes visible to the east. To the northwest across a landscape scattered with white cottages lies gleaming Lough Fada framed between Raghtin More and Binnion, with sand-fringed Tullagh Bay beyond.

About 2km to the east, a stretch of the road along which you parked is visible: keeping it in sight, head downhill towards it, over sometimes rough, tussocky ground. The shallow valley between you and the road, where lots of ancient and silvered bog pine is exposed, can be wet, but after a slight ascent over broken ground, the little bridge you crossed before you parked comes into view. Head for this: your starting point is 700m to the right.