Ed Leahy tests his climbing legs on one of our most well-known and recognisable mountains - the Sugarloaf.
Climbing the Sugar Loaf mountain is akin to buying one of those Dulux sample pots; a little tester to make sure the colour suits before you commit it to the walls of your house. The Sugar Loaf sits on the periphery of the sprawling Wicklow Mountains and it too will offer you a nice introduction to hill-walking before you delve deeper into the adjacent, more challenging slopes.
Standing solitary just beyond county lines, the Sugar Loaf is very familiar to Dubliners as it keeps guard from the south with its unmistakeable pointy peak, visible from all areas of the city.
So with aspirations of an active summer ahead, I took the chance to rediscover my climbing legs and ventured on the short jaunt down to Kilmacanogue to retrace the steps that I had not taken since one school-day summer, a fair few years back at this stage.
The Sugar Loaf climb is ranked in the easy category and it certainly looked like that from the car park on arrival. The starting point is already quite elevated so the gradient increases shortly after you begin to make your way towards the mountain top and without a defined pathway, there are a lot of rocks and uneven terrain to negotiate early into the climb. Within minutes, the spectacular vistas take you right across and deep into the Wicklow Mountains, while the Irish Sea was sparkling in the afternoon sunshine beyond along the Garden County coast.
With such a short distance to travel before reaching the business end of the climb, I dandered along at a leisurely pace with the sun on my back and the sweetest smelling wild gorse perfectly perfuming the air.
The rocky road took me around the left side of the peak, while an extreme runner appeared out of nowhere, passed with a nod and headed straight up the steepest and rockiest part of the climb. Another reason to rest, just watching the energy expanded as the loose rocks were dislodged by the runner’s aggressive approach.
The Sugar Loaf looks a lot higher than its official 1644 feet and while the ‘easy’ category certainly holds for anyone with any climbing experience, the final stretch to the summit does require a certain level of fitness and agility.
There is a volcanic look to the mountain top, but its origins are Cambrian quartzite, and you do need to tread carefully with the loose rock beneath your feet for the summit approach.
And upon arrival atop the Sugar Loaf, you are rewarded with possibly the best panoramic view of Dublin, without taking to the skies.
From Dalkey Island all the way across the Bay, the sprawling capital city sits beneath you, while as you move around and back towards Wicklow, more landmarks become evident, most notably Powerscourt, while every shade of green takes you full circle and down towards Britas Bay and the nearby Sugar Loaf junior just across the busy N11.
There is a fair bit of space on the Sugar Loaf summit so take a back-pack and eat lunch while your senses feast on some of nature’s finest work, sitting pretty on Dublin’s doorstep.
Getting There: Take the exit for Kilmacanogue and follow signposts for Glendalough. Take the left turn about four kilometres out the road and you will arrive at the Sugar Loaf car park. Alternatively, if you want to add an extra hour onto your walk, there is a trail that starts back down the hill, close to Kilmacanogue GAA club.
Where to Eat: After a day walking and climbing throughout the Wicklow hills, you will be ready for a proper feed, and the Glenview Hotel is located just two kilometres down the road from the Sugar Loaf, offering an excellent evening menu and bar food.
So you’re happy with the sample pot and are ready to indulge. Here are five more walks throughout the Wicklow area.
Devil’s Glen: Also known as the Seamus Heaney Walk, this relatively easy route takes just over an hour to complete the four-kilometre trail. Interesting wooden sculptures are dotted about the route.
Glendalough Poulanass: Another walk that takes less than an hour, this steep climb takes you above the upper lake and offers super views of Glendalough.
Knocknacloghoge: This longer walk takes you between Lough Dan and Lough Tay, which borders Luggala (Fancy Mountain). The area has a similar feel to Glendalough but should prove a lot quieter than its famous Wicklow neighbour.
Kyle Loop: This walk takes you past the village of Tinahely and is quite difficult, taking five hours to cover the 18 kilometres of country lanes, forests and open mountain.
Lugnaquilla Mountain Trail: Not for novices, this trail takes you to the top of the highest mountain in Ireland, outside Kerry, over 3000 feet and takes over five hours to complete. Should not be attempted in poor weather conditions.
For more information, visit www.wicklowwalks.com or www.visitwicklow.ie.