The Furths: They’re a Long Way from Aviemore

There may be only 34 of them but climbing the Furths is a major logistical challenge when you live in the north of Scotland. For those who don’t know the Furths are the hills in England, Ireland and Wales over 3000ft. There are 6 in England, 13 in Ireland and 15 in Wales.

Ireland

The winter of 2015/16 was spent planning, scouring the internet, pouring over maps and guidebooks and looking at travel options…………………

So how do you get from Aviemore to Dublin? The options were endless. Planes, trains, ferries and cars were all considered, but, as l am not really a fan of driving long distances, flying was the easiest (and indeed the cheapest option). Happily, three friends had also decided to join the trip. We met at Dublin airport and collected our hire car, thankfully equipped with a Satnav. Robin had travelled by plane from Edinburgh, Mark came by train and ferry from Yorkshire and Frank and l flew together from Inverness. After navigating through the Dublin motorway network,  adjusting to the metric speed limits and negotiating the toll motorways we travelled to the Youth Hostel at Glendalough. We spent the afternoon eating ice creams and being tourists. I was very relieved that we had left Molly at home with Bill as the area was festooned with ‘dogs not allowed’ and ‘dogs will be shot signs’ which l found very unsettling.

Robin and Mark on the tourist trail in Glendalough
Dogs NOT welcome

As luck would have it Alan, another friend from England, was also in Glendalough at the same time and invited us to join him on Lugnaquilla to celebrate his Furth completion. We woke to blue skies and wall to wall sunshine. This came as a bit of a shock as we had expected rather more Scottish weather! It was t-shirt and sunhat weather when we met Alan on the grassy slopes of Lugnaquilla. We celebrated Alan’s completion at the large summit cairn with screw top ‘champagne’. Luckily a local was on hand to point out what we were looking at on the horizon.

Alan completing The Furths on Lugnaquilla

After saying our goodbyes to Alan, we drove on to Cashel ready to climb Galtymore the next day. It was a good job we were all friends as our room was microscopic and swinging a hamster would be difficult never mind a cat. Again, it was warm and sunny as we took the well-trodden tourist route to Galtymore. There was a bit of mist on the summit but this cleared and gave views of the cliffs and corries hidden during the walk in. Summitting early meant we passed the hordes on our way down.

On the way up Galtymore
Mark and Robin at Galtymore summit

Next stop was Killarney Youth Hostel, our base for the next four nights. It was a fantastic place to stay, peaceful and tranquil, surrounded by woods and wildlife.

We had allowed 2 days to climb the 10 Furths of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks as a contingency plan if the weather was poor. Unbelieving, the Weather Gods were still looking down on us as we mustered at Cronin’s Yard to meet John and Dennis from the Kerry MRT who had agreed to accompany us. We headed up Hags Glen with cloud still down on the tops. John’s family own part of The Reeks and during the walk he explained recent improvements in land management in the national park had led to the repair and construction of footpaths, with path builders coming from Scotland to teach path building skills. John was also hoping that one day they would also benefit from the same access rights we enjoy in Scotland.

We scrambled up the ridge past Hags Tooth and over Beenkeragh and The Bones to Carrauntoohil, the summit of Ireland, adorned with its huge iron cross.

On The Hag’s Tooth ridge
Carrauntoohil summit

We then traversed out and back to Caher and Caher West Top as the mist cleared and the views opened up. The last big climb of the day was the 200m haul up to Cnoc a’ Chuillin. We rolled along to Maolan Bui and Cnoc a Peiste. The entertainment was ramped up a notch along the narrow rocky ridge beneath The Big Gun. There were a couple of tricky downclimbs (well tricky for me) which were executed with varying degrees of ability and bum-sliding.

A gifted scrambler blessed with very short legs
The ridge to Cruach Mor

The final peak of Cruach Mor was finally reached and we were greeted by a huge shine to The Madonna which had been built by a local man carrying rocks up to the summit over a period of several years.

At the summit of Cruach Mor
Robin at the end of the Reeks traverse

The following day we treated ourselves to a well-earned rest in preparation for Mark’s Furth completion on Brandon Mountain. With a deterioration in the weather we opted for a straightforward route up and down the Saints Road Pilgrims route. A huge shrine greeted us at the carpark and we followed the 14 Stations of The Cross and a line of reflective white posts all the way to summit where we were welcomed by yet another huge cross and celebrated Mark’s achievement with another bottle of champagne.

Brandon Mountain this way. It would be hard to get lost
Mark completing the Furths on Brandon Mountain

Following a celebratory meal in downtown Killarney four very tired walkers made their way back to Dublin the next day for the short journey back home.

England

Despite being English l have to admit that l have never walked in The Lakes so l thought l had better rectify this. Following a few days Donald bagging in the Borders, Ralph and l travelled down to our accommodation near Keswick allowing ourselves four days to tackle to 6 Furths at a very relaxing pace. I had several routes planned up each hill. These were weather dependent and often by the simplest route as Ralph was only a year old and had no scrambling experience. The forecast for the first day was distinctly Scottish. We arrived at the carpark in Wasdale in torrential rain and wasn’t surprised to be the only car there. The NT warden came over to warn against going up the hill in such conditions but after assessing my mountaineering credentials he relieved me of £6.50 and said I was OK to go! l set off up the Green How path to the summit of Scafell. I took a beeline for the summit, over walls and through fields, forgetting that in England the access rules are different and you are supposed to stick to rights of way……..oops! Up and down in mist and rain, not a glimpse of the Wasdale valley that l was looking forward to. Next day l was back at a rather busier carpark to climb Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Broad Crag via Lingmell Col. After spending most of the last 2 years bagging Grahams today was a shock. People and paths, so many people. It was a relief to leave the summit of England to walk to Broad Crag and Ill Crag and leave the hoards behind. Next time my route choice will be more inspired.

The roof of England: Scafell Pike

Mark had agreed to come and meet me for the walk up Helvellyn. The sun was splitting the sky as we took the less frequented route to the summit from Wythburn Church. We reached the summit ridge to be greeted by the sight of people queuing to climb up and down Striding Edge! We spent a leisurely hour on the summit, even joining a group celebrating their Wainwright completion. They did not offer us any beer.

Mark and Ralph on Helvellyn

It was a return to dreichness the next day so we nipped up Skiddaw by the very quick Jenkin Hill route. The trip was a bit of a ram raid with little time to explore the area with my overriding memories of the trip being crowds, a shocking amount of litter and the 5 ½ hours it took to drive home.

Skiddaw? Could be anywhere

Wales

Andy and l met Robin on the M74 at Abington, already 3 hours into our 450-mile drive to Snowdonia. The forecast wasn’t exactly inspiring and we had only allowed ourselves 3 days to complete the 15 Furths. Andy had spent a lot of time in Snowdonia as a student and almost 35 years later fancied a trip down memory lane. Robin and l were determined to complete the Furths and we had a plan. We were staying at the luxurious Snowdonia Hostel in Plas Cruig which thankfully had an efficient drying room.

Plas Cruig Hostel. Highly recommended

We could see the summit of Snowdon as we arrived at Pen y Pass and parted with £10 to park. A ‘youth’ in the carpark informed us that Crib Goch was the most awesome scrambling in the country. I was greeted with a blank look when l asked him if he had ever been to Skye? Crib Goch and Crib y Dydsgl were traversed with only minimal recourse to all fours and bum sliding from the more cowardly member of the group.

A hillwalker out of her comfort zone on Crib Goch

Then we met the crowds, so many people appearing from all directions and we even had to queue to climb the staircase to the summit trig point. It was a quick descent down the Miners Track back to the car as the masses streamed ever upwards. With the hordes of people, the fumes from the generators at the café and the train passing us a couple of times, I have to admit that the summit of Wales was one of the most uninspiring places I have ever visited.

Anne, Andy and Robin on Snowdon summit
Snowdon descent

However, the day was still young so we drove round to climb Elidir Fawr from the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. This would shorten our route across the Glyders the next day as we were due to be fighting a losing battle against an incoming weather front.

The weather was already closing in as we arrived at Ogwen Cottage. I had left my heavy duty waterproof coat behind so spent the day wearing Andy’s rather large MR jacket! We weren’t concerned with aesthetics, bagging our summits was the order of the day. We took the easier route up the south ridge of Tryfan, we didn’t jump the Adam and Eve stones, we bypassed Bristly Ridge on a steep scree path and slipped and slithered over the greasy rock onwards to Glyder Fach.

Andy and Robin on Tryfan
Robin on the Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach. I wasn’t brave enough

The rain was coming down in sheets by now so it was a head down trudge over Glyder Fawr and some easier terrain to Y Garn.

Modelling an out sized coat on Glyder Fawr

After a knee shattering descent, we arrived back at the car soaking wet and a bit fed up. Tomorrow could only be better.

And it was.

The traverse over the 7 summits of the Carneddau from Ogwen Cottage to Gerlan would see Robin and complete the Furths. The route up Pen yr Ole Wen looked far harder than it was and we quickly reached our first summit accompanied by a heavy downpour.

Llyn Ogwen from Pen yr Ole Wen

The views disappeared again as we passed Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn. During the traverse out to Yr Elen the clouds parted and the sun begun to make an appearance. The ridge reminded us of Kintail and the autumn light raised our spirits.

Yr Elen ridge

We took a break in the hut under Foel Grach, found it hard to believe that Garnedd Uchaf was actually credited with being a separate summit and finally the path to our final Furth made an appearance. With great relief we hugged the standing stone that marked the summit of Foel-fras.

Furth completion on Foel-fras

So that was it. The Furths were complete. The walk out back to Gerlan in the early evening sunlight was relaxing and gentle on the knees. A quick taxi ride took us back to our car at Ogwen Cottage. That evening we enjoyed a meal and a few drinks to celebrate trying to forget about the 9 hour drive home the next day.

Thanks to Robin and Mark for allowing me to use their photos.

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