Walk for the weekend: hiking the two breasts of Anu

The views are spectacular on the northern slope of this Kerry range, which starts at the Fort of the Red Claw

Whether viewed from the south on the N22 Cork-Killarney Road or from the north on the N72 Rathmore-Killarney Road, the twin peaks of the Paps have a quite distinctive outline which is why the earliest races on this island worshiped them as Da Chioch Dannan; the two breasts of Anu, the mother goddess of the Tuatha De Danann and who the River Danube is named after.

The most popular walking routes are via the southern slopes but I was curious to explore the northern slopes. At the base is a large stone fort known as Cathair Croabh Dearg, the Fort of the Red Claw, which may refer to one of a triad of war goddesses who manifested herself as a raven.

As the fort is now a site of Christian worship, the goddess has morphed into St Croabh Dearg and there are religious ceremonies held here every year on the first of May. The tradition probably grew from the pagan festival of Bealtine which surely involved rites at the twin cairns on the summits known as “the stone nipples of the mother goddess”. So, I felt I was following in very ancient footsteps indeed.

The walk begins at a stile across from the fort which is also the western starting point of the Duhallow Way. We followed the markers until they pointed off to the left and kept going on the track keeping to the right at a fork. We crossed heathery ground towards a low spur which led up to the deep cleft between the two hills.


Absorb the beauty

The views on the northern side are spectacular with a panorama extending over the Blackwater Valley and, on the day, the snow-covered slopes of the Purple Mountain range. As we got higher Lough Nageeha lay below us as we contoured along the edge of the steep slopes of the gully to arrive at spot height 584m on the col between the two peaks. We had reached the snow at this stage and it was crisp enough to provide a good grip on the steep slog up to the summit of the western Pap (690m).

It was time to take a break and absorb the beauty of the snow-covered mountains to the west. There was about 80 per cent cloud cover and the shafts of sunlight turned the snow to an intense white which reflected up into the clouds to create an exotic luminosity in the atmosphere.

But all was to change suddenly as a louring cloud swept in from the north west and we were enveloped in driving snow.

The cairn provided shelter until the squall had passed after which we made our way across to the eastern Pap which is slightly taller (694m). The two prehistoric cairns have not been excavated but are thought to be miniature passage graves or to house burial cists.

The return was straightforward as we took the direct route down the northern slopes heading for a track that would bring us back to the start point.


Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 79

Start and finish: Cathair Craobh Dearg, Grid Reference: 138 883

How to get there: Take the N72 west from Rathmore railway station for 4km. Turn south here for 3km, where there is a junction with two roads ahead. Take the road signposted for "An Cathair". Keep an eye out for a metal stile on your right. There is parking for a few cars 200m beyond the stile.

Time: four hours

Distance: 8km

Total ascent: 600m

Suitability: Route is moderate

Food and accommodation: Rathmore, Killarney