Seven suggested walks from Kells Bay House & Gardens
1. Knocknadobar. (Difficult)
2. Beentee. (Medium)
3. Bray Head. (Medium)
4. Mountain Stage. (Medium)
5. The Golden Mile. (Easy)
6. Bolus Head. (Medium)
7. Carrauntoohill. (Difficult)
Kells Bay House is situated in
an area of outstanding natural beauty. This is immediately obvious to anybody standing on the terrace on a clear day. Having explored the gardens at Kells, and appreciated the vistas available from within, you may be tempted to explore further. The walks outlined below are suggested to encourage you to go and appreciate the riches of the local landscape. The Knocknadobar Mass Path and The Golden Mile can be completed from the house, the remaining walks are within comfortable driving distance.
Each of these walks was completed and enjoyed by this scribe and Billy your friendly host, well within the guideline times, at least once since 2014. The fundamental assumption on each route is that the scenery is absolutely wonderful; after all you are in the heart of the Kingdom. The walks are offered in no particularly order, I would welcome the opportunity to retrace my steps over any of them.
On clear days, the 360° views from the highpoints of the Bolus, Bray Head, and Knocknadobar routes are beyond compare. Enjoying them you will be tempted to linger. Do! These walks are nourishment for body and soul.
The walks are suitable for those of basic fitness. In good weather conditions a pair of stout walking shoes is the only specialist equipment required. Modern forecasting allows accurate prediction for the expected duration of these walks. Always check the weather (met.ie) before you set-out and equip yourself for the expected conditions. Allow a margin of error in both equipment and time for unforeseen events. As you will have learned, the Gardens at Kells receive over 55 inches of rain per year. This often means underfoot conditions in parts of these walks are wet and muddy, so a good pair of waterproof hiking boots and rain-gear will make for more comfortable walking. Mobile telephone coverage is excellent in these areas. Emergency contact details are listed below.
Knocknadobar and Carrantuohill require some strenuous climbing and should only be attempted by those with the relevant experience. If attempting these, leave notice of your intentions and expected time of return with a member of staff. During the summer, Carrantuohill suffers from too many climbers. The route suggested here is one of the less popular ones, but these days you are likely to meet fellow climbers on most days. While it is a rewarding climb, it is difficult to discover the peace and solitude normally associated with mountain-climbing there. It is included here because Kells Bay House is an excellent base from which to climb Ireland’s highest peak.
I hope you will go and enjoy at least one of these walks. If you do you will be inspired to complete another of them. If you do not, you have missed a wonderful opportunity to challenge and reward yourself with the walking wealth of the Kingdom.
NB. General Advice and Emergency Contact Details
I would not venture on these routes without a copy of the relevant Discovery Series OSi Map. For the walks, Maps 78, 83 contain all the detail required. The Trailhead Grid References provided are simple to find on these maps.
When walking in Ireland’s mountains common sense is your best protection. When conditions are good, these walks are comfortable and safe. The general guidelines below should not deter you from getting out and enjoying the available walks.
• Never undertake a walk in wilderness country alone. Three is a recommended minimum group size.
• Wear or carry suitable clothing, food, basic first aid kit, survival bag, waterproof torch (one on an elasticated headband is best) and whistle.
• Know how to read a map and use a compass. Always carry both and use the map to maintain a check on your location and rate of progress.
• Know the weather forecast; be alert to changing conditions en route.
• Leave a note of your planned route and expected arrival time. Report on arrival.
• Carry a mobile phone; only use it to summon Mountain Rescue in a real emergency -incapacitating or serious injury or illness.
• If an emergency arises stay calm and think before you act. If summoning help first identify your location (grid reference), then contact Emergency Services (999 or 112) and ask for Mountain Rescue.
1. Knocknadobar (690m)
Trailheads: A/B: Coonanna. Map 83 V482 829 C: Kells Bay House.
Overlooking Kells House and Gardens to the west, the massif of Knocknadobar offers some very rewarding walking to competent hill walkers. On a clear day any of the 3 suggested routes here offer some of the most spectacular views in Ireland.
Walk A is the most straight-forward. The trailhead is reached after a 20 minute drive. Turn L out the front gate and drive to the N70 (Ring of Kerry). Turn right and continue for 8km. At Deelis Bridge turn right for Coonana harbour, Knocknadobar Pilgrim Path is clearly signed here. Continue toward Coonanna Harbour for 3.5km. On the right hand side you will see a Car Park clearly marked. Park here. There is an honesty box with a parking fee of €3.
The Pilgrim Path, which consists of the 14 Stations of the Cross, leading to a large Celtic Cross near the top of Knocknadobar commences here. Traditionally masses were held on the top on certain feast-days during July and August but nowadays the dates are subject to change.
This path is well established and clearly marked. The fourteen stations provide useful reference points. The ascent is steep but manageable, and the Cross should be gained in 75-100 minutes. The mountain-top is a couple of hundred yards further north marked by a small cairn and Trigonometric Point. You can then descend to the car-park the way you came up or by. From the top, on a clear day, the 360° panorama includes: W over Valentia Island to the Skellig Rocks; N the full extent of Dingle Bay and the Dingle peninsula from Caherconree to your right and the Blasket Islands far left ; E the peaks of Teermoyle and Coomacarrea and beyond these the MacGillicuddy reeks: and to the south the strange peak of Mullaghnattin and the mountains toward Kenmare. This is a visual feast without comparison, fully repaying the effort involved in the climb. Your descent is by the way you came up. Allow 3-3½ hours in total for this walk.
Variation B extends this walk, eastward back to Kells, along the ridge, above the vertigo inducing valley of the Glendalough Lakes and across the two subsidiary peaks(633m, 612m) back to Kells House. This is a challenging walk, with a very steep descent and should only be attempted by experienced well equipped walkers. Allow 5-5 ½ hours in total for B.
Walk C traverses the massif from N to S on the traditional route followed by inhabitants of Kells to weekly mass at the church in Foilmore.
This can be completed on foot from the House. Turn R out the gate and follow the road westward for 2.5km passing the caravan park and up the hill to the west. Watch for a stile over the roadside fence. The Mass Path commences here. A small parking lay-by is 25 m further W on the right. The ascent to the saddle between the two spot heights is straightforward. The descent to the south is steep and should be treated with circumspection. Descending you should veer left to intersect the 3rd class road by which you will return to Kells House. This walk can be completed comfortably in 2½ hours.
2. Beentee (376M)
Trailhead: Map 83 V 465 783
Beentee offers a number of clearly marked walking options and is easily accessed from Cahersiveen town centre. Though not very high, the views are spectacular and it is an excellent site to catch a winter sunset.
This route begins in the centre of Cahersiveen town at the Fair Green Car-Park and a map marks the starting points offering three colour coded walks. The popular choice is a moderate 3 ½ hour (9km) loop walking route on an old Mass path with great views from the summit of Beentee at 376m from where you have a panoramic view of the town and Valentia Harbour. Part of the route is on the Kerry Way (a long-distance route) which is signposted with yellow arrows and the little walking man sign. There is an initial climb eastwards along the street to the site of the town’s reservoir; from here the route contours around the mountain through fields and farm-tracks. There are a large number of stiles to be crossed some of which were in need of maintenance (Dec 2016). Cross them with care. The ascent to the summit is marked by a sharp turn right, highlighted with the relevant coloured arrows, there is also an option to continue at the same height completing a circumnavigation of Beentee. The ascent is quite steep, though mercifully short. Descend from the summit, following the markers through farmland. This leads you to a quiet back road where you turn right and follow the road back into town. You will enter the town along Barr na Sráide, the street made famous in Sigerson Clifford’s song The Boys of Barr na Sráide.
3. Bray Head (239M)
Trailhead: 30KM. Portmagee, Valentia Island (Bridge or Ferry) Map 83 V 334 737
The trailhead is reached after a 30 minute drive. Turn L out the front gate and drive to the N70 at Kells Post office. Turn R toward Cahersiveen, drive through the town and take a R turn after 3km where signed R565 to Portmagee. In Portmagee turn R and cross the bridge to Valentia Island. Continue up the hill and turn left toward Bray Head. There is a car-park clearly marked. A parking fee of €2 applies.
This walk has been recently developed as National Loop Walk 173. The signal tower is probably the best point on the mainland from which to view the Skelligs and there are excellent views of the spectacular 300m Kerry Cliffs to the south. The distance is c. 5km and the return includes an ascent to a spot height of 239m. Again, this is a wonderful viewpoint with a magnificent panorama. The full looped walk should take no longer than 90 minutes; however the numerous opportunities for photographs are likely to delay you.
4. Mountain Stage – Kells via the Kerry Way
Trailhead: Map 78 V619 886 Just off N70
The trailhead is reached after a 20 minute drive. Turn L out the front gate and drive to the N70. Turn L toward Glenbeigh. After 5 km watch for a turn off L on to what was once the main road. There is parking available here and the Kerry Way is signed with the brow little walking man signs. The Kerry Way, is Ireland’s longest National looped walk and there are considerable resources on the internet and in book and map form available locally if you wish to explore it further. A short walk east along the road is followed by a sharp right uphill unto a track. The track climbs gently uphill with improving views northward from Rosbeigh and Glenbeigh in the E with Drung Hill, Knocnadobar and the Dingle Peninsula dominating the views NW. This is a gentle enough walk, clearly marked of about 8 km taking a leisurely 2 ½ hours. The total ascent is less than 250m but because of the proximity to the sea, the effect on the available vies is exaggerated. The route passes through the traditional sheep-farming country, both fields and commonage typical of Ireland’s west coast. There are also some recent plantations of forest along the way. It re-emerges to a secondary road at Cahernaman. From here a right turn will take you back to Kells Post Office after a walk along quiet roads of c. 1km. From there you can either walk directly back to Kells House or arrange to return to your starting point and collect your car. The amount of tourist traffic along the Ring of Kerry route means it is impractical and uncomfortable to walk along the N70 so do not attempt to return to your car on the main road.
For well equipped and experienced walkers the mountains to the south of this route, offer fantastic ridge-walking and great views over the three lakes Coomnacronia, Coomaglaslaw and Coomasaharan. Access to the ridge can be achieved from the Kerry Way via Drung Hill (640m), near the start of the route described. This is the road less travelled and I would highly recommend it for those with the relevant experience.
5. The Golden Mile
Trailhead: Map 83 V559 865
The Golden Mile commences from Kells Post Office, on the N70 Ring of Kerry road just 1.5 km from the front gate of Kells House.
It is a perfect leisurely after dinner stroll along the remains of an old railway track. It is highly recommended on bright summer evenings, and offers opportunities to catch a wonderful western sunset, with the additional height giving enhanced views and silhouetted views of the Dingle peninsula and Blasket Islands. If completed from the House walk up the River walk behind Kells House and continue via the third-class road to the Post-Office, this has a total distance of 4.5km back to the house and can be completed comfortably in a little over 1-hour. Alternatively, you can drive up and park at the Post-Office.
6. Bolus Head (284m)
Trailhead: Map 83 V 388 650
The trailhead is reached after a 35km 30 minute drive. Turn L out the front gate and drive to the N70 at Kells Post office. Turn R toward Cahersiveen, driving through the town. Continue for 5km then take a R turn on to the R565 to Portmagee. Continue through Portmagee toward Ballinskellig. After 7km at a sharp turn left you will see a signed walk for the Bolus Head looped Walk. Turn R and continue to the car park. The walk commences on a metalled road to a Y junction after 1.5 km. Turn R here. This walk is clearly signed with purple markers. Follow these markers through a stile past a disused farmhouse. The loop continues through fields until forced to turn right by the Atlantic. Here the ascent begins to the ruins of a military barracks and look out post at a spot height of 284m. Superb views of the Skelligs to the NW and Ballinskelligs Bay to the E from here. To the south the entrances to Kenmare River and Bantry Bay can be seen. Due W the rolling Atlantic stretches to the horizon. The descent is clearly marked to the saddle, where a left turn brings you back to join the surfaced road. You may spot your car in the distance as you stroll comfortably back enjoying the views of St. Finians Bay ahead. This walk is 9km with a total ascent of 270m. It should take no more than 2½ hours. The ascent is steep but of short duration.
7. Carrauntoohill (1,039M)
Trailhead: 30KM Glencar, The Hydro Road.
Distance: 12km. Strenuous Climbing, steep ridges and challenging descent.
Walking Time: Allow 6 hours in good conditions.
Start at Grid Ref. V772871 where a locked gate leads to a steep concrete track known locally as the ‘hydro-road’. This is a steep slog up the lower slopes of Skregmore which will test leg muscles and endurance before bearing right, easing off in gradient somewhat and finally emerging at Lough Eighter.
From here, there is a rough track rightwards across open ground towards the spur leading to Caher. As you ascend the long spur, the ground to your left steepens until you are eventually walking along the ridge. Care is required here, especially in windy conditions. As befits Ireland’s highest mountain the views from here are stupendous and are a just reward for the effort involved in reaching here.
The ridge continues, with steepness increasing leading to the three summits of Caher before a short rocky descent to the col between Caher and Carrauntoohil. Between Caher and Carrauntoohill the ridge is narrow with steep drops on both sides, and it should be approached with caution.
The final ascent to the summit is relatively straightforward. The summit is marked by a large cross and there are a number of stone shelter pens, which provide cover from windy conditions. Ensure you retrace your steps when starting your descent as the summit is almost surrounded by vertical drops.
Return to your car via the same route making sure you’re back in Kells for a well-deserved cold Singha beer and a tasty meal in the Sala Thai restaurant.