Take On Nature: Torc mountain offers stunning views of Kerry landscape
THE lakes of Killarney are stacked below, the woodlands of Muckross and Killarney National Park spread for miles while the nearby peaks of the Macgillicuddy Reeks loom to the west.
On the way up I startled a hind and her calf who had come adrift from their herd of Irish red deer. Sitting at the summit, as if taking in the view for himself, a full-grown hare sits munching before loping of into the bracken as I puff my way to the top.
Torc mountain, just a few miles outside Killarney in Co Kerry, is by no means the most challenging peak in Ireland, but it still offers a stunning panorama of the surrounding landscape.
If starting at Torc Waterfall, a few miles past the entrance to Muckross Park on the Killarney to Kenmare road, you will be straight into climbing several hundred steps through forest.
However, a small, almost hidden road just past Muckross will take you to a car park higher up from where the Old Kenmare Road and the path up to Torc are accessible to most casual walkers.
The forest is dense, oak and pine, on either side of the path, with moss-covered rocks jutting out among them. There is an ancient and ethereal feel to this part of the walk as branches creak, birds twitter and an occasional mammal scuttles through the undergrowth.
To the left, down a tree-covered slope, the Owengariff River runs, adding to the natural symphony of sound.
Eventually the path opens out into a mountain valley with the river and Mangerton mountain to the left and Torc to the right. This is part of the Kerry Way and, as the name suggests, was formerly the road to Kenmare.
In the lower slopes that open up on to Mangerton you can make out a cluster of tumbled walls, the remains of a village that was abandoned during the Famine.
This is one of my favourite viewing places for spotting red deer, one of the few places where Ireland's largest native mammal still live wild and not to be confused with the much more common fallow deer, introduced by the Normans. A herd of petite Japanese Sika deer can be found in nearby Muckross.
Patience is often rewarded here as the red deer can be spotted, sometimes in significant numbers in this valley. They seem to just emerge out of the rolling landscape and where there was only scrubland a few seconds earlier a dozen are suddenly grazing. Sometimes you won't see them at all.
In the autumn during the rutting season if you come up you will hear the stags bellowing and if you are lucky enough to see them it is at this time that their antlers are fully grown.
A path up to Torc has been laid out in recent years. When I first started walking this mountain it was instinct and luck that brought me to the top without sinking into boggy ground, or running up against a sharply inclining slope.
Now steps and wooden slats, not too obtrusive, guide you to the summit of the 500m summit which can be climbed in less than an hour.
The Old Kenmare Road stretches into the distance while Mangerton lies just across the valley. But it is on the far side of the lakes that most spectacular view lies, the Macgillicuddy Reeks and towering high among them Carrauntoohil, twice as high as Torc, a challenge for another day.