Some of Ireland’s best hill walking is Sligo & the Northwest
Adam Jorgensen lives in Denmark. For many years he has brought groups - mostly [very!] active retired hill walking enthusiasts - to Ireland to enjoy the Sligo area. Recently Discover Sligo asked Adam about his love for hill walking in the Sligo area...
”From the moment I first saw the silhouette of Benbulben, more than 20 years ago, the mountain has had an overwhelming impact on me and very quickly I developed a strong desire to reach the top to view the Atlantic Ocean. A couple of years later a good friend, Sligo man Jack Lynch, took me up. We went up through Kings Gully, a spectacular way to approach the top, with the big boulders lying around as if scattered during a giant’s battle! We weren’t too well equipped and maybe we had partied a bit too much the night before. The rock surface was slippery and we got a few bruises on the way. But, up we went, walked over the swampy plains at the top and finally reached the magic spot where the next step is a 500 meter free fall. We sat there in quiet contemplation for a while.
Years later, when I started bringing groups of Danish visitors to Ireland, Sligo was an obvious choice. Benbulben, of course, became one of the main attractions. Thanks to local hill walking guide, Paul Canning, we had a terrific walk up from the south side of the mountain. I will never forget the happy smiles on the faces of the group members when we reached the top, which is marked with a triangulation pillar.
On another fine morning, our bus took us to the old bog road that begins just before you reach the Glencar waterfall. We started out walking up the tarmac road until we reached the edge one can see from the road. We started our hike west along this edge following a path trod by sheep over many years. To the left, the cliffs fall vertically 300 meters. Glencar lake spread out like a carpet, and south the majestic mountains of the Crockauns sit like a throne. It is an astonishing view!
After about an hours walk, we reached a small stream that falls into the abyss – or rather is supposed to. But most of the time the wind is blowing from the south west and catches the water, turns it to a misty spray and blows it back on the mountain in an eternal circulation. Of course, after rain, this valley is filled with many water falls and flooding streams – “where the wandering water gushes …”.
Back on the public road from Sligo, just where the lake begins, if you look up, you will spot the remains of a cable system once used by the miners that worked the barite mines further into the mountain. We followed the eroded pylons up to the mines and enjoyed our well-deserved pack lunches! Paul had brought torches and the bravest among us went into the mine. It was a thrilling experience, which convinced me never to enter that place on my own. The vertical shafts are NOT signposted and entering the mine without an experienced & knowledgeable guide would be like walking into a death trap!
We then crossed the mountain to the northern side with its magnificent view over the Gleniff Horseshoe. We walked along the southern edge and ended up on the very top of Benwiskin, a remarkable mountain seen from the Bundoran road looks like an axe turned upside down – or, as some people call the side profile - Sligo’s Matterhorn! The view towards Mullagmore, Innismurray and the mountains of Donegal equals the one from Benbulben. We finished this wonderful walk climbing down into the valley on the grassy slopes – which was more challenging than you would expect due to the heavy rain!
I have brought walking groups to hike in many different parts of Ireland and seen much breathtaking scenery. Yet, this walk remains one of my most precious gems no matter how many times I have done it.
There are dozens of fabulous walks in the Sligo area and you could spend weeks exploring the Sligo landscape, but an extra bonus lies just 90 minutes away at the famous Slieve League sea cliffs on the south west coast of Donegal. These are Europe’s highest sea cliffs (not the cliffs of Moher, as some claim!) and offer a superb trek from there to Glencomcille, or even just along the cliffs. It’s an outstanding natural environment - thankfully not spoiled by any visitor centre - but complemented by the nice Ti Linn cafe located just before your car starts the climb to the cliffs’ car park. Forget everything about Cliffs of Moher or Giants Causeway and their tourist fun parks! Slieve League is the breathtaking beauty of unspoiled nature.
Just one last piece of advice: Do not approach these walks without a local guide.