The Brandon Hill Walk is a fine way to spend a morning.
The well-trodden trail takes you to the top of the highest mountain in Kilkenny, rewarding you with spectacular views on a clear day.
This is a strenuous climb that stretches for around 7.5km and that can take 2 to 3 hours to conquer. Read on for an overview of the hike.
Some quick need-to-knows about the Brandon Hill Walk
Right – let’s get you up-to-speed nice and quickly, so you’ve a good idea of what to expect from Brandon Hill:
Brandon Hill is the highest peak in County Kilkenny, and lies on the border with County Carlow. It’s around 30 km southeast of Kilkenny City. The nearest town is Graiguenamanagh, which sits at the foot of the mountain.
2. Several different trails
So, the original Brandon Hill walk is a lengthy 19km trek that takes 5 to 6 hours to complete. There’s also a shorter version that stretches for 7.5km and that takes the guts of 3 hours to complete. It’s the shorter version that we’ll focus on in this guide.
The route is generally rated strenuous due to the 600-metre ascent. The Brandon Hill Walk can get steep and narrow in places, and good hiking boots are strongly recommended.
As you can see from the map above, there’s two different car parks to choose from. There’s the Deerpark Car Park or the Raheendonore Car Park.
About Brandon Hill
As mentioned above, Brandon Hill is the highest mountain in County Kilkenny. Well, I say mountain… It doesn’t quite reach the lofty peaks of Carrauntoohil, and standing at 515 metres it’s not exactly a snow-capped behemoth.
In fact, with its gentle rounded top peeking out just above the treeline, it is definitely more hill-like rather than mountainous.
That’s not to say that it’s not worth the climb. As you traverse hill trails that meander into wooded enclaves, you’ll be amazed at how diverse the scenery is.
Once you breach the treeline and hit the heather-covered slopes, incredible panoramic views open up. Then, as you get to the summit, you’ll enjoy a wonderful panorama that takes in the gorgeous Nore Valley and much more.
It is believed that Brandon Hill has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years. Archaeologists have unearthed a number of neolithic monuments, including tombs, huts, and what are believed to be ritualistic sites, possibly used for animal and even human sacrifice.
Take care at night if you find yourself traversing the trail on the Inistioge side of the hill. Rumours abound of a headless horseman sharing the trail with you!
An overview of the Brandon Hill Loop
The Brandon Hill Loop can be split into a number of stages. We’ll go through each section below.
Please note that the outline below covers the route from the Deerpark Car Park.
Section 1: Forest trails
From the car park, head straight forward past the barrier into Gorlough Wood. Soon enough you’ll come across a 3-way junction. This is where the Brandon Hill Loop and the South Leinster Way separate.
Follow the purple arrows and take the path that heads left into the forest. After following this trail for another 3 km or so, you’ll reach another 3-way junction.
Veer right at this junction, and start heading uphill as the path zig-zags through more forest, before emerging into open space. Follow the path as it nips in and out of the woods for a further 2 km, skirting the edge of Ballinvarry Hill.
Eventually, you’ll come to a fork. Follow the purple arrows to take a sharp right.
Section 2: The ascent
Head up this path, taking the narrower wooded trail and climbing for around 500-metres. Eventually, you’ll climb over a concrete stile and reach a T-junction that marks the top of the treeline by way of a larger path.
Take a right here and walk for about 200-metres. Keep your eyes peeled for the trail on your left that takes you up to the summit of Brandon Hill.
Follow this rocky path up the heather-covered hillside until you reach the summit, marked by a cairn and circular monument. There’s also a large cross near the summit. Enjoy the splendid panoramic views before making your way back down.
Section 3: The way back
From the top, you’ll see a way-marker pointing out the stoney path you’ll need to follow back down. If you can’t see the marker, head towards the cross and follow the larger path that lies to its left.
Follow this stoney path as it winds and zig-zags back down to the treeline. Eventually, you’ll meet a larger forestry road. Veer right here and follow the path as it continues to zig-zag downhill.
After about a kilometre, you’ll reach a Y-shaped junction where the Brandon Hill Loop rejoins the South Leinster Way. Take the path on the right and continue to head back down into the woods, following the trail all the way back to the car park.
From here, it’s simply a matter of either jumping in the car or heading back to Graiguenamanagh the same way you came.
Things to do near Brandon Hill
If you tackle the Brandon Hill Walk in the morning, you can easily tackle one of the many other things to do in Kilkenny.
Or, you can spin into Carlow and eat and explore. Here are some suggestions:
1. Lunch in Graiguenamanagh (10-minute drive)
Graiguenamanagh is a lovely little town that sits at the foot of Brandon Hill, on the banks of the River Barrow. The original route starts and ends in the town, or it’s just a short drive from the car park. As a result, it’s the perfect place to stop by for lunch after completing the walk. You’ll find some great pubs and restaurants in the town, serving up quality grub.
2. St Mullins (20-minute drive)
St Mullins is a beautiful village on the river’s edge in Carlow. With cottages, vivid green fields, and views over the river, it’s like stepping into an oil painting. The village dates back to the 7th-century and is awash with ancient monuments. Meanwhile, the local cafe and pub are both great for refreshments.
3. Nine Stones and Mt. Leinster (40-minute drive)
If you’re looking to take in even more spectacular views after climbing Brandon Hill, it’s well worth driving to the Nine Stones viewing point in County Carlow. On a clear day, you’ll be treated to views of all of the surrounding counties, hence the name.