Published 7th August 2019, 13:49

    THE number of registered Munroists may be creeping ever closer to 7,000, but it seems there's less of a rush to go on and complete the other peaks of similar height.

    Only around ten per cent of those who finish the Munros have also bothered with the Tops for example, and it's a similar story with the Furths.

    These are the peaks over 3,000-ft in Britain and Ireland ('furth' or 'outside of' Scotland) and there are 34 in total; six in England, 15 in Wales and 13 in Ireland. 

    The English and Welsh ones are situated in compact areas and each group can be handily done over a weekend, but the Irish hills are more scattered and give the excuse, if any is needed, for a week-long excursion.

    We flew to Dublin, then headed south to Wicklow, continued on south-west via Waterford to Tipperary, and then west to Cork and Kerry, before finishing at Dingle on the magnificent solitary Brandon Mountain. We flew home from Shannon. Well, we did once the visiting George W. Bush and his entourage had finished delaying flights from all round the world.

    That was 15 years ago and I haven't been back. I would love to return, but when you visit the one country in the western hemisphere which can not only match, but outdo, Scotland for rain and not encounter one, tiny droplet, there's always the nagging suspicion that you can't possibly get off so lightly twice.

    Not only was there no rain, there was an unprecedented heatwave, the mercury gradually rising throughout the week until it hit 28C. The final two days were a bit overcast, but that was regarded as a relief.

    Be warned, though. The access laws in Ireland are a far cry from here in Scotland. There is no legal right of access and landowners can refuse permission to walk on their ground. Some farmers put up barriers – one even had a wall of wrecked cars across an entry track – and it is certainly not dog friendly. If you are thinking of taking your dog, it is wise to enquire about permission before setting off. The likelihood is you won't get it.

    There are some waymarked paths and agreed routes, but it often feels like an uneasy truce between walkers and landowners, and passage on to the hill can be very restrictive. Finding the correct starting point is the key to a hassle-free day, so I joined a group to make life easier. The leader was an Irish mountaineer and the group also included a New Yorker, a Canadian and a Dutch lady, who appeared to have booked on the wrong trip.

    Lugnaquillia provides an easy first day, a rounded grassy hill which is the highest point in the Wicklow mountains. Just be sure to check there are no red flags flying before venturing up as this is the site of a military firing range. A cross-country drive the next day led to Galtymore, another hill which was accessed via a narrow lane between high fences topped with barbed wire, in and out the same way for the circuit.

    The mountains got bigger and rougher as we headed west for two longer days on Macgillycuddy's Reeks. Flawless skies and a fiery sun made for hard shifts over a succession of narrow ridges and soaring peaks, including Carrauntoohil, the highest point in the country, crosses and shrines on every summit.

    Our base here was Killorglin, a town awash with fine pubs and which, for a few days every year, is ruled over by a goat as part of the celebrations of the Puck Fair. It may all sound a bit mad, but surely no more so than having Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in charge of whole countries. Next election: Vote goat.

    The best was saved for last, the lone jewel of Brandon Mountain. This peak sits on the edge of the Atlantic and is synonymous with pilgrimage, with ascent options along The Saint's Road and The Pilgrim's Route. We chose the latter, passing a series of rusting posts with signs to remind you this is a dangerous hill, to rise through a corrie reminiscent of Skye, all crumbling rock and clinking scree, ominous slabs and faces all around.

    From high in the corrie, you gaze down on the Paternoster Lakes, a chain of lochans like dropped beads reducing in size, sparkling in an effusive light.  After all this rugged beauty, it comes as a bit of a surprise to emerge on to a grassy crest with a solid earth path leading to the summit. The view is expansive; on a clear day you may well feel you can see America.

    The week felt more like a holiday than hard work, lots of Guinness and lots of fecks, a warm welcome at every hostelry, and a relief that our guide had taken the anxiety out of potential access problems. It's an experience that demands to be repeated.