A short sunny evening walk in the Slieve Blooms, taking in Arderin and Barcam.
21 April 2019
A few weeks ago, driving northwards on a beautifully sunny Spring evening, I made a short detour to the Slieve Bloom mountains.
The Slieve Blooms are best known as the remote mountain range that dominates counties Laois and Offaly and form a long natural boundary between the two counties.
Their summit, Arderin, stands at an decent 527m altitude and is the shared high point of both counties and this was my first target.
I accessed the area from the south, via Mountrath, and then took the scenic and circuitous road through the Glendine Gap.
This road, with switchbacks and hairpin bends more redolent of an Alpine pass than the Irish midlands, is surprisingly very new, having been built only in the 1990s, neatly bisecting the range between Mountrath and Kinnitty.
The apex of this road is marked by a roadside monument commemorating the late JJ Fanning, longtime editor of the Midland Tribune paper and renowned as the “Father of Slieve Bloom” for his promotion of the range as a walking destination.
There is also a small car park, behind which is the start of the track up Arderin.
The track starts with an easy descent into a small ravine and a short trudge through an often swampy depression, which on this occasion I thankfully found almost bone dry. Beyond this lies a straightforward trail uphill towards the mountain summit.
The walk is short – I’d estimate 700 metres or so – but care is needed to avoid a few particularly wet spots on the peaty ground.
After about 15 minutes or so, I was at the top, where there stands a summit cairn along with the slowly-sinking trig pillar, only the crown of which is now visible.
Intriguingly, I found the cairn bedecked with a Munster Rugby flag – strange to see so deep in Leinster – and the red flag complemented the russet-coloured peat that surrounded the cairn on all sides.
The views in all directions were magical, with the green pasture fields to the south contrasting with the wilder country of the surrounding mountains and hills.
It is said that a third of Ireland can be seen from here on a clear day and I would be slow to dispute that.
Paul Clements’ wonderful book “The Height of Nonsense” tells of the rich local folklore surrounding Arderin, including the annual Lughnasa festivals of music and dancing which survived from druidic times until a few decades ago.
On an evening like this it was easy to see how prominent mountains hold a certain magic that transcends generations stretching to millennia.
Having enjoyed the views, I returned to my starting point and proceeded across the road to another rough track, towards the summit of Barcam, another peaty and largely featureless hill overlooking the Glendine Gap opposite Arderin.
I used the Peakhunter app to guide me towards the summit, which lies roughly 200 metres off the track across the hill towards Carroll’s Hill, one of the Slieve Blooms’ most prominent peaks.
I found this part of the walk very pleasant. My walking poles were invaluable in negotiating the slighly rough terrain through the grass and heather, which made for an interesting contrast to the smoother trail up Arderin.
I was soon at the summit, upon which the sole marker is a short wooden pole standing upright. Beyond in the distance lay Carroll’s Hill.
With the light fading, I turned back and headed for my car, enjoying some sublime views of the setting sun along the way.
Taking not much longer than an hour, I found this a cracking walk for a modest outlay of effort. If you find yourself in the area, it’s well worth it.