Another weekend, another hike: Mount Brandon

The Dingle peninsula is one of the biggest attractions in Ireland, and before you even arrive you’ll understand why as you drive the winding roads from Tralee or Killarney you are treated to incredible views of County Kerry in every direction. When you arrive to the small but lively town of Dingle, there is an immediate vibe of the friendliness and fun for which Ireland is known. Dingle is also known as the foodie capital of Ireland, so there are no shortage of delicious spots for seafood and more (for a casual meal, I highly recommend fish and chips at Harrington’s followed by ice cream at Murphy’s and a pint at Foxy John’s). However, when Steve and I took a drive out to the Dingle peninsula on Saturday we bypassed the town; our sights were set on a higher point: Mount Brandon.

About 15 minutes on from Dingle town you’ll find a turnoff in Baile Breac directing you to Cnoc Bréannain—Dingle is a Gaeltacht area, so signage is primarily in Irish—and another few minutes down a farm road you’ll reach the base of the mountain. This is also the end of the Cosán na Naomh, or the Saints Path, a pilgrimage road from Ventry Strand to the foot of the mountain, which is named for Saint Brendan the Navigator. There’s another path up the peak that begins on the other side, near Castlegregory, but it’s a couple hours longer and more strenuous, and we were getting a bit of a late start around 2pm, so we chose the simpler route.

The path is well-marked, if a bit marshy, with white trail posts all the way up. There are also large crosses at various intervals along the trail. On a good day, it can be a busy route—we encountered a good few people on their way down as we ascended, with still more climbing ahead of and behind us. I had heard that Brandon, despite being only the 8th-highest peak in Ireland at just under 1000m, was more difficult than Carrauntoohil, but I assume that statement is referring to the easterly route because I definitely didn’t find the Saints Path way more difficult, although it was very steep at the start.

On a good day, Mount Brandon has probably the best views of any hike I’ve done in Ireland so far. Although it’s hard to beat Torc’s panoramas over the Killarney lakes, we couldn’t stop turning around all the way up Brandon. As you look down all along the Dingle peninsula from your vantage point on the trail, you can see out to the Blasket islands, the westernmost point of Ireland. Further south, we caught glimpses of the Skelligs, as well as views all along the Kerry coast.

The trail is mostly straight for the first two thirds of the walk. In the final stretch, it curves up and around the mountain before returning to the western side to hit the summit. However, it is not until you reach the top that you can get a view beyond the mountain, so it’s an amazing moment to make your way to the summit and suddenly be faced with amazing views down the other side to Castlegregory beach. The Aran islands and the Cliffs of Moher were even visible far up along the horizon, small specks in County Clare a few hours away. I’ve read that the wind can be strong at the summit, which I was prepared for after Strickeen a few weeks ago, but on the day we climbed it, all was still and calm. Coming back down the same route was quick and easy, and the whole hike took us just under three hours, so it was a perfect half-day pick for a sunny afternoon.

We decided to forego our traditional post-hike 99 (for those who aren’t familiar, a 99 is a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone topped off with a Cadbury Flake) and instead we drove another 15 minutes into the peninsula to the Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne (West Kerry Brewery). The first microbrewery in Kerry (founded in 2008), it had only just reopened after the lockdown (pubs that don’t serve food were given the green light as of last Monday). If you like craft beer, this brewery is well worth going a bit out of your way—the pints were fantastic (I had a seasonal red ale brewed with local elderflower and rose) and sitting in their garden enjoying a cold drink after the hike was the perfect way to finish the evening.

As we drove the hour and a half to Killarney, the sun was setting and we enjoyed more gorgeous views of the peninsula and the Kerry coastline every way we looked. Previously, I’d only been to Dingle once during the winter when everything was grey and quiet, so it was an absolutely lovely way to spend an afternoon. Next time we go back I’d like to spend a bit more time in the town (maybe visit the Dingle distillery, where they make their famous gin?) but as we come into autumn, squeezing in another amazing hike before the seasons properly change was a real treat.


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