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This 19km hike will bring you from Graiguenamanagh up Brandon Hill, Co Kilkenny’s highest peak. In addition to epic views, you can look forward to a refreshing dip at the end of your hike in the cool clear waters of the River Barrow.
Starting Point: Graiguenamanagh
Distance: 19km / 5-6 hours
Difficulty: Moderate/ difficult
Beautiful woodland, mountain peaks, rolling green landscapes and an idyllic village to set off from – you get it all on this hike.
This route is at its best on a clear day for the dappled sunlight beaming through the woodland canopy and the great reveal of incredible far-reaching views from its summit, but there is something magical too about hiking through a mist-shrouded forest before taking in wild and distant mountain peaks just visible through the low cloud. So, whatever you do, if you visit County Kilkenny, set out on the Brandon Hill Loop for beauty wherever you look.
A trailhead based in a picturesque village with plenty of rest and refuel options is a great start for any hike, then there’s the good climb to warm up the body and of course, the view. This 19km trail climbs to the highest point in County Kilkenny and is well worth the effort for those infamous panoramic 360-degree vistas from the summit of Brandon Hill at 515m.
Taking in the Blackstairs Mountain range and surrounding peaks, and on the clearest days, Hook Lighthouse in County Wexford on the coastline in the South East, so if you love a hike with a good long climb and a rewarding summit, you won’t be disappointed with the Brandon Hill Loop.
Considered a moderate to difficult route, the circuit will take around 5-6 hours to complete and is a trail recommended for those with a reasonable level of fitness. The climb can be arduous and the going tough on the descent, whilst the summit is exposed which during inclement weather can become dangerous. It’s recommended, as with most hikes, to carry plenty of food and water, a mobile, and extra layers in case the weather changes, that way you’re sure to enjoy every mile, even if the weather is less favourable.
The Brandon Hill Loop can be hiked in either direction, but most prefer to hike this circuit in a clockwise direction.
Starting in the picturesque village of Graiguenamanagh (which also offers a fantastic post hike swimming spot!) at the Barrow Valley Activities Hub, the trail leaves the village following small country roads but don’t be put off, you soon reach forest track and woodland.
Entering Gorlough Wood the trail briefly joins the South Leinster Way but then takes a left and meanders as the track ascends, heading around Ballinvarry Hill and reaching a crossroads of pathways.
Here the path takes the ‘green’ track towards Brandon Hill, taking in a stile and connecting to a path alongside forest and open heather-covered hillside which in around 200 metres takes a left to join the hill trail that will lead you to the summit of Brandon Hill.
Stop, grab a snack and take in the breath-taking views.
When it’s time to head down, look out for a waymarker leading to a stone pathway. This descends in a zig-zag to the edge of woodland and takes a right onto forest track, eventually joining the South Leinster Way again. Here head right and keep descending to return to Gorlough Wood.
This section passes Freney’s Well, named after the outlaw or ‘Robin Hood’ of local legend, James Freney, he was famed for traversing Ireland during the 1740s, and supposedly buried his treasures here just outside of Graiguenamanagh.
The route is mainly forest track, which can get very muddy so be prepared, as well as a quiet country road near the trailhead, whilst towards the summit there is some open hillside trail.
The most challenging sections surround the summit, with some steeper, rocky sections on the descent so take it easy, or bring a walking pole if you’re unsure about the walk down.
The Brandon Hill Loop trail is located in the south east of Ireland in County Kilkenny which is well known for its medieval monastic buildings and ruins including Kilkenny Castle, the 9th century St. Canice’s Cathedral and the 12th century Kells Priory. The county offers beautiful panoramas before you’ve even ventured up its highest peak as well as plenty to see and explore, including the Medieval Mile Museum and Dunmore Cave, and so whilst many stop in to hike and leave, it’s highly recommended to stick around a little longer to explore this beautiful ancient part of Ireland.
If you’ve got time to play with, explore the village of Graiguenamanagh. Meaning ‘hamlet of the monks’, this beautiful medieval village sits on the River Barrow and offers riverboat trips, guided tours and plenty of local stories and ancient history.
The town of Graiguenamanagh is also an adventurer’s paradise allowing visitors to take to the water by canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board, hike numerous trails or hire a bike to see all the sights, but it’s also being a great place to kick back, rest and refuel.
For hikers looking to bag some miles, the village is an intersection for two of Ireland’s great long-distance trails, so why not hop on and do a section of the iconic 100-kilometre Barrow Way which passes through Graiguenamanagh. Flanking Brandon Hill, this heritage trail follows the towpath along the River Barrow (the second-longest river in Ireland), having started in Robertstown, in County Kildare, it ends in St Mullins, County Carlow. Or you can jump onto the 102-kilometre South Leinster Way which takes on Brandon Hill itself on-route from Lackabeg, Country Carlow to Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Dogs are allowed on the trail and post-hike rest, refreshments and amenities can be found in the idyllic town of Graiguenamanagh where there is a variety of cafes, shops and restaurants.
Ample parking can be found along Brandon Drive, but as with all great hikes, it’s best to arrive early to secure a good spot and avoid crowds.
Don’t leave the village without hiking some of The Barrow Way or seeing the Duiske Abbey or Cushendale Woollen Mills.
Accommodation to suit any hiker or budget can be found in and around Graiguenamanagh, from campsites and self-catering options to bed & breakfasts and hotels.
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