Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.
John Millington Synge
There are some hills that will surprise you regardless of their stature in height and Wicklow’s Scarr (640m/2100ft) is certainly one of them. According to the MountainViews list of Vandeleur-Lynams (Irish mountains over 600m in height with a prominence of 15m) it is ranked the 212th highest out of 274 summits. Its nearby neighbour Kanturk (523m/1716ft) is even lower still, but whatever these hills lack in height they reward threefold in character, variety and some of the finest views to be had in Wicklow.
Located in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, this 4-5 hour looped trail is a scenic treat. In the spring, bluebells line the lower pathways while in the autumn the bracken fronds turn a reddish-brown and the leaves of deciduous trees around Lough Dan turn golden-yellow. Measuring around 2.5km (1½ miles), Lough Dan is County Wicklow’s longest and largest natural lake. Its finger shape outline is part of a glacial-ribbon system that also includes Lough Tay a few kilometres further to the north. Its surrounding land is privately owned so access to its shoreline is limited; but don’t worry, as our trail goes nowhere near it.
Where To Park
You’ll find spaces for several cars at a lay-by in the hamlet of Oldbridge (Grid Reference O 158 019) which can be reached from Laragh or Roundwood. If from the latter, follow signs for Lough Dan from Roundwood Village. Oldbridge gets its name from an old bridge that spans across the Avonmore River which flows out from nearby Lough Dan.
On A Country Road
The first kilometre-and-a-half is a steady plod along a country road flanked by a mix of conifers and deciduous trees. Head northwest and you’ll soon pass the Lough Dan Scout Centre on your right, situated near the lake’s southern shores. More of the lake is slowly revealed as the road weaves its way along pastoral countryside. After around 25-30 minutes, you’ll cross a stone bridge before the road veers a sharp left. Keep your eyes peeled for a narrow wooden gate on the right just over 50m beyond the bridge.
Something For Every Season
This is the start of a signposted footpath giving access to Kanturk; it’s a scenic stretch which bursts with colours from spring through to autumn. Around late April you’ll find clumps of bluebells and coconut-scented yellow gorse lining the path. In the summer, it’s the turn of colourful wildflowers and fuchsia shrubs. Then later in the autumn, the deciduous trees surrounding the lake will explode into colour giving different shades of yellow, orange and brown. Later, when the path meets a track, use a set of wooden steps to access the hillside.
At a stile beside a large boulder, you will cross the boundary into the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The path is well-defined and as height is gained, you’ll soon see the sickle-shaped beach at Lough Dan’s northwest fringes and the steep cliffs that guard Knocknacloghoge’s lower slopes. Around late August, the slopes here are brightly coloured purple and pink by flowering heather.
As you approach the top of a shoulder, you’ll see a large, oval boulder sitting on a low rock base – a good landmark if it’s misty. The boulder is an erratic, brought here millions of years ago when the glaciers melted.
From here the path veers southward, weaving its way through a labyrinth of rocky outcrops and boulders of various sizes. This is how you’ll remember Kanturk, as there’s no cairn to define its summit.
View In A Million
Now you should be able to see Scarr. The path dips down into a saddle which can be boggy when wet before rising to spot height 561m. Once there, ascend southeast until you reach the top of Scarr. In Irish it is known as Scor or Sceir which means ‘sharp rock’. The name makes sense as its bedrock is composed of schist, a metamorphic rock that can be easily split into plates or thin flakes. If it rains, keep in mind that schist can be slippery when wet!
When you’ve reached the small cairn that marks the summit, it’s time to stop and take it all in. The 360° view is one of the sweetest in Wicklow, with layers upon layers of hills extending in pretty much all directions. To the north, Djouce rises higher than all of its nearby hills; to the northwest, the skyline consists of a sprawl of roundish tops dominated by Mullaghcleevaun; and to the west, there’s the hulking peak of Tonelagee backed by the flying saucer shaped reservoir of Turlough Hill with its chimney-like structure sprouting out on one end. From up here you’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view over the Glenmacnass valley and its waterfall. The landscape to the east is greener and flatter, with the Vartry Reservoir gleaming in the distance and the Irish sea farther still.
All Good Things Come To An End
When you’re ready to leave, head south across the summit ridge then later veer southeast to descend along a broad spur. There’s a distinct path that leads all the way to a fence corner at a patch of forestry. Once at the corner (and before a rusty gate), turn left onto a broad track then shortly after veer right and descend along another track, keeping the trees to your right. Once at the bottom, you’ll reach a junction of tracks. Here, climb over a stile found beside a metal gate to exit the National Park. You are now on the waymarked Wicklow Way with the track now heading in a general easterly direction until it meets the road. Turn left on the road and follow it northward as it undulates back to the junction at Oldbridge. Here, turn left and in a few hundred metres you’ll be back at the lay-by where your car is parked.
Be Prepared For The Hill
This is a reasonably straightforward hike with well-defined paths. Nevertheless, the hummocky top of Kanturk can sometimes be confusing in the mist, so always check the weather forecast before you go. As always, wear good hiking trousers (no jeans) and make sure you pack a fleece layer and waterproofs. Around the winter season, pack a woolly hat and gloves too. 2-3 season hiking boots is sufficient for this hike and when its dry even a good pair of trail runners will do. The summit of Scarr is a great spot for a picnic. As with any hillwalk, bring along a fully charged mobile phone and if you have to call for Mountain Rescue ring 999 or 112.
About The Blogger
Adrian Hendroff is a member of the Outdoor Writers & Photographer’s Guild and a Mountaineering Ireland approved course provider. He is a fully-insured mountain guide and runs regular navigation and Mountain Skills courses. Adrian has written several Irish walking guidebooks for the Collins Press and is a regular contributor to newspaper/magazine features. He also runs outdoor photography workshops. More on Adrian see www.adrianhendroff.com or www.fabulousviewpoints.com