The Glover Challenge May 2017

Donegal, magical, mystical, spectacular and voted by National Geographic no less, as the number one destination on the planet for adventure holidays recently. This is the home of the mighty Glover Challenge, a very popular route on the Irish challenge walks calendar, with which I had unfinished business. After attempting this route two years ago in horrendous weather conditions and opting to pull out due to concern for myself and those around me who might choose to follow had we continued.

So when it came up this year to do it with SMC, you’d have needed wild horses to keep me from it and 11 of us headed north to give it a go. The rest of the group got there on Fri to stay in the Eirrigal Youth Hostel, a fine building but due to financial constraints this was no option for me, so I decided to bring a tent, sleep over and meet the guys in the morning for bus to take us to the start of the hike. This is a linear hike by the way.

But the closer it got to the kick off the worse the weather forecast got and I was faced with the likelihood of pitching and striking camp in the teeming rain and being soaked to the bone probably, and tired probably, meeting the team at 6:15 am to head on our adventure? This didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me so plan b came into effect. It’s just a 2hr30min drive from my house to meeting point, hostel, so leaving at 3:30 should give me lots of time and traffic would be light.

It worked well and I opted to take the coast road there, up through Glenties and it was a while since I took this route. I drove it regularly a while back as a lorry driver and it was bad then. It’s improved immensely and I must say it’s a real drivers dream. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive and it’s more scenic than going inland through Letterkenny, though this is nice in places too. En-route, just leaving Coolaney I see a car just pulls out in front of me, flashing lights in my direction so to see what’s going on, I slow and lower window, “what’s the crack, you all right?” sez I.

Must see on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Altan Castle.

Where can I buy smokes an food sez yer man, in a foreign accent so I do some quick calculating, this guy needs a smoke, Sligo town and I’m heading pass there, follow me. Good plan sez he, he does a u’ey and pulls in behind for the hungry rock, turn right to Ballisodare, I checking rear view to make sure he keeping up, motorway to the flyover. Pull in and he come along side.

Up the exit ramp, 2nd exit, about 1k on yer right’s the 24hr, smokes and grub. I’m going straight, good luck to ya. “Thanks’ and may all the gods smile down upon you, my name is Michael Martin Stephen John Thomas O Donnelly O Muruchu O Reilly” sez he as he making the sign o the cross in my general direction, sending me blessings. He don’t look like a priest and this chap’s WIDE AWAKE, so I sez I’m Niall, good luck 2 ya, box clever. All the best. On his way he goes and me on mine, at 3:30 am. Interesting encounter. He may have been a DJ or something on the way home.

So the rest of drive was pretty uneventful as drives in the dark can be. Just keeping her between th ditches in th rain, on roads already full of standing water in places and I knew sun’d be coming up as I drove north. Then just before I crossed the bridge at Lettermaccaward, just after Mass, on the nice newly resurfaced road, about 20m in front of the van, as the darkness is ebbing I see the biggest, reddest bunny I’ve ever seen in my life so far. In no hurry as he hopped across, on a mission only known to itself and possibly just 1 or 2 others. This creature is the colour of the red rebel’s noggin I kid you not. And there’s gotta be more than 1.

Altan Farm
Lough Altan

I arrive eager and rearing to go as the guys are just making last min preparations. I’d a tent with me so I might camp here after the hike, save me the drive back and weather’s set to improve in the afternoon and following few days look better. Can explore a bit. We’ll see.

Bus arrives and we all pile on and he’s a local so knows the backroads and which ones the bus can go down’ so 45 min (I think) later we’re there at the north side of Muckish, disembarking at the old quarry, and thick, heavy, wet cloud all round so some of us on the waterproofs, but it’s warm. Try move slow and steady so you don’t sweat too much with the extra layer. Easier said than done this. The north of Muckish looks formidable, and very steep. In places it can be lethal if you make a mistake but there is a route up it.

This side use to be a quarry for building materials I believe, so there’s stone steps here and there in different places, leading up to the remnants of an old cable car system, about halfway up, and then you can find a route which continues higher and to the summit.

I mentioned earlier the Challenge Walks Ireland calendar, and there’s an organised event held here 1ce every 5 year so keep an eye out for the yellow arrows pointing the way ahead, take your time and you’ll find them every 50 – 150m, as long as you’re not just looking at your shoes that is, follow these arrows and they’ll lead you to the top. Straying too far from this route could be very bad as there’s shear drops, cliffs and boulders everywhere. Not sure who’s in front of this posse or who’s navigating but I was up here two yr back and they don’t seem to be going too far of course.

The north sibe of Muckish, sorta. ;)
Can be a long walk in at the start if your driver dont know where to drop you.

Some of em done this route before also, they’re using viewranger mapping breadcrumb software, so I can chill out and shoot th breeze. Quick group snap at Muckish top. I’d gone over this route on map prior to leaving home and knew south east-ish, and this is the general direction we took. Also you’d hardly need a compass or grid ref measurements if you just have good vision and can see the path ahead, the one thousands of other feet landed on their way along the Glover challenge. Trail’s there.

Liquid sunshine on a grand, soft Irish Summer day

We drop down to road and the layby where there’s a regular refuelling point so I wait as the guys all refuel and get ready for next section. To tell truth I’d have kept going but was with the group so in these cases I’m easy going enough. Up and up, and up a bit more, nice and gradual to an obvious spot-height, no-where near the forestry boundary and bearing in mind, there’s 3 spot heights, the 3rd one’s our objective, “461”  and from here in the mist our north east our next stop is Crocknalaragah. Off we set in that direction where there’s a typical checkpoint on the organized events. None this day but we find no prob.

Here we’ve a wee discussion as to best way to continue. We’re not all in agreement so decide to split up. Me and Colm/Vs rest of em following their breadcrumbs on viewranger. Probably a predetermined course they’d plotted long before leaving, sez we’d all hook up at Lough Alurig, just where river leaves the lake. Sound, done, good luck. Me’n Colm, we panicked some plover and hopped a fence or two. Good technique btw for hopping fences. And found our objective no prob. Way ahead of the others so this was nice.

Could be a river or two to cross

Chill outa th breeze and have a cuppa. Settling in and other party eventually arrive. They take a leaf and all’s good. We discuss the weather and probably the whistle calls, or maybe tha was earlier. All this sittin round drinking tae in the damp will chill ya if let, so we split. Colm heads 1st as he tends to do, then me and the rest follow. Up and up toward Aghla beag. I find myself solo here for a while and find it quite nice. Hear some voices off to my right so a whistle and we regroup, headcount, are we going to Ardloughnabrackbaddy discussion and some1 decides, nah we don’t need to go there. Think I remember who opted out but woulda been nice I thought. Well,,, next time.

Twas around here I’d noticed one of our number was moving a lot slower than normal. I’d spoken to him already about carrying your house on ya back on a trip like this. Didn’t weigh his bag but it looked heavy and sez he’s in training for upcoming event. He a fit lad. Hill-monster but one having difficulty now due to old injury play up unexpectedly, but cest la vie eh?. Jimmy’s already donated his walking pole for the cause. Ya seldom see Jimmy on the mountains without one so now I’m watching both Jimmy in case he’d falter without his pole, and the guy who’s doing his best to keep up.

Jimmy, ya really should get a basket for ya pole BTW, you’ll find it makes life lots easier. So on and up and down and up a bit and down a bit, all in the mist, Eaghla More’s long behind us and our pal with the injured wing’s in a bad way so me’n Jo, the doctors’ wife stop to see can we help. Doctor’s not far and Jo gives some pain killers. I sez if you can make it downhill for another bit, I’ll take a look there, can you make it tha far. I knew it was a good sheltered spot and the rest of group had this in mind for another refuelling area, Altan Farm. Yup sez he, think so. On we descend. Following our viewranger breadcrumbs, not my idea btw and it actually slowed us down. We could see the way ahead at this stage, from what’s on the map, (osi I use), and what was visible on the ground as we’d just dropped outta the cloud at this stage, but that’s the truth.

This viewranger plot and follow a route seems a bit like a Pacman game if ya ask me, and the group must wait while Pacman finds his way. WTF if the battery goes is all I wanna know.

Regardless we get down the hill and find a cosy enough spot outa the worse of the weather conditions. Getting set for a nice cuppa and slice o banana bread. Others are taking pics or feeding their faces and playing touch my toes, wonder can I, and our injured pal gets in. So as promised out comes my 1st aid kit with the creams and stuff. He asks how to use and a guy sez, “ya don’t need to take trousers down, you can apply bandage over trousers”. I’m asked and advise, “Don’t put cream over ya trousers”! Think about it, pity ye weren’t there if ye weren’t there.

In hindsight I think I shoulda wrapped it tighter, but was trying to be ready in case there were more injuries later, and I’d forgotten 1 of Micks’ golden rules. I can still hear him now, “I wouldn’t give em a sock”. Long story to explain but basically I should’ve asked for yer mans’ 1st aid kit and used this for supplies if possible, before raiding my own. Or I could’ve asked other team mates if they’d a roll or two with them, just in case of emergencies. Next time, and he did say the Etoflame worked and he’d felt better after the wrap. But my adventure for this day was far from over, and there was potential for further injuries. Back to the cuppa and snack, check map and route ahead.

Having it!!

So from Altan farm to Eirrigal it’s not that complicated. Nearly linear, or as the crow flies on a map. Two spot heights, one a bit higgledy piggledy looking on our route, but if you can imagine a straight line, of such a distance and using map memory. You’ve Beaghy, Mackoght and Eirrigal. Simple. Spot height to spot height, spur to saddle and again. You’ll be climbing on a spur, where the track is. Sound, memorised so I can put map away to free up a hand I may need, and so it and map case is outa my jacket where it’d been quite a lot of the day, when it wasn’t being used, adding to non-needed insulation and overheating. It had been out for quite a lot of the day as it was being used.

Beaghy was interesting in the mist, Mackoght was very rocky with boulders to scramble over strewn about everywhere but no major problem and we get down toward the saddle. Our lame comrade has decided on prudence and vowed to head back to car from here. Last chance and this was the closest we’d been to car all day. Mathias volunteered to walk out with him. Another of our party has a great brainwave. Why don’t we all walk out from here and 4get Eirrigal all together, as we’d all been up this before, weather’s a bit overcast, and my legs are tired. Well stuff tha missus I’m thinking, but say,

“I sacrificed and came here today to climb this and that’s what I intend to do, ye can do what ye like”

So straight away Colm and Jim were in and we didn’t have to ponder that ridiculous idea any longer. Eirrigal is after all what can best be described as the jewel in the crown of what the Glover challenge is all about.

Another big long steep climb at the end of a day that’s already been full of such. Forego it indeed.

Ended up 9 of us climbed it. I’d a trick up my sleeve which I’d kept to this point. A secret weapon I’d not used before but had heard about from friends, and that secret weapon is dextrose. Basically pure glucose in a sweet form to be used as needed for a quick pick-me-up or a boost. Energy wise and focus wise. So I offered em round to all and there was a few takers. Some were happy enough with sambos. Somehow we all found the shoulder, and each other again after becoming temporarily separated, as we scrambled over boulders, some of which were quite mobile and teetering if stepped on wrongly. I’d pointed at the spur to our left, I could just make out the outline, a darker grey among the other grey, where our track lay, compass in hand. .  Or maybe they didn’t hear me proper. Next time they’ll hear me in Clondalkin and I’ll make damn sure of that.

And basically I was criticized and shot down for not having my map in my hand, by yer man following his Viewranger breadcrumbs, followers in tow as they headed further from our route. So far in fact we’d to ring him to find out wtf he was going

But all’s well and once on the spur you can’t really get lost. 10s of thousands of boots have worn a track over the years, keep climbing and when there’s nothing left to climb you’re at the top. The dextrose was kicking in, or maybe adrenalin, or something else but once I got by some of the others who’d managed somehow to get in front of me then go to sleep in my road. Once I got past these I near ran up Eirrigal, except I don’t really believe in running for fun. But there was no stopping me. Leaving the guys behind, which I don’t normally do, as a matter of duty (sometimes self-imposed) so I stopped to look over shoulder a few times to see they were still coming, then on again just as quick, if not quicker. From looking at pics and research I knew Eirrigal consists of two peaks, and it’s a narrow ridge linking the two. I’d get a pic of the guys up hear who’d done this far. It’d be the only snap I took that day, but the rain had eased enough to allow one quick pic before putting it back in dry bags.

Now where’s the camera, not in its usual place. Look again, other pocket no other pocket no, SH1T, think, must be back at Altan farm where we’d tea, then remembered that while I was helping with the 1st aid earlier I’d a lot of dry bags around and taken out. Stuff I wouldn’t normally need to go near on a hike so maybe camera ended up in there by mistake and Yess!!!! Happy out, disco. Camera in paw I join the guys on 2nd summit and get the snap.

Colm snapping away too, good on him and well done and congrats all round. We’d still to get down. The last of the two to summit that day had arrived only after I’d put camera away and some of the others had left, but I’m glad I waited on them and not raced the others down. Just to see the smiles on their faces as Colm took their pics was worth all we’d been through, they were that happy. We’d still to get down though and this is anything but a given when you mix the terrain, weather conditions and tired bodies to boot.

So remembering my training and responsibilities, the lessons, do nothing in haste. A group’s only as quick as its slowest mover. Besides what’s the point in getting back to ya car half hour earlier if ya gonna be waiting for passengers or drivers anyhow? Always stay in touch with guy in front and behind and match speed accordingly. Whistle calls are effective too, shouldn’t be needed if each are towing the line, but we a good team and we all get down. I’m sauntering along at the back with a couple of great companions, the doctor and his wife, out enjoying a schlep through some slop, enjoying the last of our hike, we’ve lost the well-worn track amidst the long grass and heather, pools and puddles but we hear the road ahead and know to head downhill.

Back to the van, quick splash and dash while the guys are getting all set for a night out, I just want food and might camp, might go home. Weather not lifting, home it is. Great steak in posh hotel with mediocre service if you ask me. I can elaborate but won’t, I eat, say good byes and run back in van at 9:30, picking up dog at 11:50, and he’s just delighted by this and I’m home at 12. A long day well spent. I slept well that night.

The one snap I took on the day is included with those added and the rest are from two yr back when we let the weather have its way. It was a foul day too and camera was again sheltering most of the day. Will possibly be back. There’s other challenges out there. Let’s do em. ;-}

 

The Glenmore Horseshoe: Ox Mountains

The Glenmore Horseshoe
Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy

So after the Christmas and some busy time, catching up with family and eating too much. Some stress and madness, more for some than others we figured it’d be time for some escape and so we managed to put a few hours aside to go grab some wilderness therapy. Just to hike and reconnect with nature to get away from the computer and the phone for a few minutes seemed heaven sent. The weather was warm for mid winter. We drove to Glenmore  on the eastern flank of the Ox mountains, a truly stunning valley where the raptors soar, and a magical place to be on any given day. Parking at the yellow barrier we headed up the valley a little, following the river and the logging road to the bridge where we crossed, and still following the logging road over the fence to about G515:247 where we headed south toward our 1st summit of the day.

I know it’s hard to imagine for some, but the number of times I’ve been up here over the years, and they’ve been countless, I never saw another soul other than the company I started out with. There’s a lovely piece of bedrock sticking up looking just like an erratic rock which I like to use as a 1st checkpoint.

Wild habitat
To the waters and the wild

Good views from here toward south and east Sligo, and beyond on a clear day, before heading west following the contours of the gently rolling hills and into the network of streams and gullies. There’s all sorts of creatures living along here and I can’t really think of a much better place to spend some time and while away the day. There’s lots of water in the river too after recent rainfall so we had to hike a fair bit upstream to where it narrowed in order to cross safely and without a dunking, but we found what we were looking for after a while. We started to head NW in toward the top of the valley, keeping some height as we knew lower down the rivers were in full flow and the

The leaderground would be swamped. After crossing the river fairly high up on some convenient stepping stones, we decided on a break to lighten our bags of some of the food and drink we brought. This for some can be the best part of the day, depending on what you’ve packed. So Knockalongy was to be our next checkpoint and we’d to head N/NE, hand-railing the forestry boundary before a nice gradual incline and the going was good. Dusk was just upon us and the lighting and the colors could just leave you stuck for words, with the greens and browns from the otherworldly peat hags,

to the fiery reds and oranges struggling to make themselves known through the mist, just hugging the ground here and there. Finally our objective is in sight, the trig point which marks Knockalongy, the highest point in the ox mountain range and then were there. Just in time to grab a few snaps before full dark and the fun really begins. We take time to sign the geo cache book and surprise surprise, ours are the 1st names to go in it this year, a little time to take in where we are before the game of find the cars as Barry likes to call it begins. Get out our head torches and flip the battery around so we’ve power, time to go. It’s all downhill from here and the best thing I find to do is follow land marks and features.

 

Hope you brought the batteries

I’ve been here many times so had the advantage of being on home turf so to speak, but generally I like to do this and not make things more complicated than they need be, with bearings/timing/pacing, unless I really need to, say for instance if I’m looking for a really small but important feature. Too long standing around doing calculations and you or someone in your party is likely to start feeling cold at this stage. Found the stream that led to the bigger stream that lead to the fork in the river which was our next CP, but lost the moon that was above us which we were keeping at 2 o clock as a way of staying on our bearing, but it didn’t matter.

Watch out for that hole

Found the tree line again and just had 1 more river crossing which was no bother, into the fire break which led back to the cars. 20 mins later, just savoring what remained of the hike, reflecting and planning our next jaunt out to test ourselves and we’re back where we started, another snack and a cuppa before hitting the road just to ground ourselves and we’re away, leaving no trace and none but the mountain would ever know we’d been there. What a great day.

Hiking For Health and Happiness

We’ve a well chosen group of walks and hikes to suit all age and fitness levels, lot’s of them just happen to be based around the West/North West, as this is my back yard at the moment. You’ll find stunning scenery and well known landmarks, alongside some hidden gems we like to keep to ourselves hah, lest they become too overcrowded. From high mountains to valleys low, you’ll never know unless ya go.

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spot the people

We can arrange guided tours to suit any group and show you the sights and share some of the lesser known facts of each area, all in a safe but exciting environment, no matter your choice. Our group of guides really know their stuff, are well experienced and have all been trained to the highest standards.

The prices!

For groups of up to six, a half day, roughly 4 hr hike – €100

For groups of up to six, a full day, roughly 8 hr hike – €200

You can email us or get in touch to find out terms and conditions, (we’ll have it posted up here shortly) and required kit list, or find us on Facebook and reach out that way. We’d be only too happy to answer any of your questions,,, once they’re relevant of course hah, don’t be asking me about football cause I wouldn’t have a clue.  Chat to ya then. N.

Benbulben at sunset- Ancient limestone

 

Benbulben, or Ben Bulben as it’s sometimes spelled is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable landmarks in Ireland. It’s a timeless, magical landmark in Sligo

Cu Chulain's playground
The north face, Cu Chulain’s playground

and it’s been said Cu Chulainn, the hero of ancient Celtic mythology and his brothers in the Fianna, used to hunt wild boar on it’s majestic flanks, and also where  Diarmuid and Grainne hung out while dodging the King who wanted his guts for garters. Guess that’s what you get when you elope with the king’s bride to be.

The view north and east from the summit

This is Also where the Noble six fled during the Irish civil war around 1916 era, after the ambush of an armored car and they were pursued up here and gunned down without a chance to surrender. Not that they would have probably, but there’s a number of memorials around here in recognition of their bravery and sacrifice and you can still find some of the caves they used to hide out in and fight from.

Ancient limestone
above the north face

The late and very famous poet W B Yeates is also buried here under Ben Bulben and you can go visit his grave and have a coffee and a scone in the lovely cafe there too, which is a nice way to kill an hour or two if you don’t feel like actually climbing the mountain.

You can see right down to Mayo in the south, east to Letrim and and north to Slieve League in Donegal. West to the mighty Atlantic.  Benbulben is 250,000,000 years old, give or take a few and it’s limestone crags dominates the skyline for miles around and is home to lots of different species of flora and fauna. Some of which can be found nowhere else in Ireland.  You can still find fossilized coral up on it’s heights too if you know where to look, as it used to be the ocean floor;

Atlantic views
Great views along the WAW

There’s various routes up this monolith to suit all fitness levels and indeed it’s a very manageable hike for just about everyone. Depending on the time you have available, and favorable weather conditions, generally 4 hours will see you up and down, it can be done a lot quicker and I once spent 12 hours getting to the top. Yes we took in a few sights on the way.

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Rime growing into the wind

I was also up here with some friends in the ice and the snow, when the beast from the east did blow, and the weather was -18 C. Did we feel cold? not a bit of it. We were too busy having fun.

There are 1 or 2 access issues though from certain points and you should always try to find out from locals where’s safe to park and do I have to cross private property or not to get there, as like 90% of all land in Ireland, all around it is privately owned, however there are some spots where it’s

Sundown over the Atlantic

fine to park and use as your jump of point to get to the higher elevations. Please remember the leave no trace policies too if you do find yourself exploring this and any area, as it’s a big part of ensuring a good relationship with the landowners and impacts on all of us and the next generations to come.

The Shefrey Hills- Mayo

Down the line at the Sheefrey Hills

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      So four SMC (Sligo Mountaineering Club) pals and I decided to go to Connemara along the Wild Atlantic Way for a linear hike on ground most of us hadn’t covered before. Now a linear hike as opposed to a looped or horseshoe will take a bit more organisation as a two car drop entails you get a car to end of hike, then drive another car to start, or there’s various other ways. Yes it involves a bit extra timedsc03944 shuttling drivers as passengers at start and end, but it also means you get to see more variety on the day and you’re not seeing the same scenery twice.

We started at the western end of the mountain range beside Doo Lough and proposed to hike east. This would benefit us with the wind at our backs during most of the day. It’s good when you can plan for this or alter route accordingly. It being mid-Autumn our weatherdsc03932 forecast wasn’t looking so hot and mountainous terrain will always amplify the effects of wind and temperature will decrease as you climb, so having the right gear is a must, getting as detailed a weather forecast as possible, (remembering that a weather forecast is at best educated guessing), and having a few other pieces of kit with you is always highly recommended. Things like a map and compass and the ability to know how to use them or failing this a safe and trust worthy guide. First aid kit just in case, nourishment and drinks are vital.

But the rewards are just so worth it and anyone
who’s been here will tell you the same. We had a nice gradual incline for the first 90 minutes or so with a short steep scramble up the last section before the summit of Barrclashcame which is a lovely plateaux with magnificent views looking towards the Mweelrea range,   Clare Island and Clew bay beyond to the north or the Maumturks and Devils Mother to the east over the glens, Leenaun to the South and Killary Harbour, Irelands only natural Fjord.

Not forgetting Aasleagh Falls where a lot of the 1989 movie “the field” with Richard Harris and Tom Berringer was filmed. There’s lots to see and do around here with both the Delphi and Killary adventure centres, boating, and lots more besides. And the seafood is just amazing. Lots of places to stay too to suit all budgets.

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We continued along a stunning ridge walk,
surround by big sky and then made our way pass an interesting trig pillar which still had the timber framework in place well over a hundred years after it was built. Then a nice gradual descent following the broad shoulder down to the end where we’d left the second car at Tawnyard Lough, not far from Carrowkennedey where the IRA had a decisive win over a RIC and black and tan force in an ambush in June 1921. At a nice manageable relaxed pace the duration of hike was just under 5 hours including lunchbreak and we covered 12.5k, climbing 882m and dropping 772min just under 5 hours.

Photo credits: Niall English and David Bourke

Map

The Ox Mountain Challenge – Pea Soup

Ox Mountain Challenge

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Wheat Eater
Who wanna play with the rope?

So on the first leg of our journey we get dropped off at Grid ref G309:094, an area known as Glendaduff. We hook up with the Foxford way which
runs through this area and start heading north, following the way-marked route. It’s been a beautiful morning and the rain starts as soon as we leave the car so it’s on with the rain gear. Up a nice gradual incline and our plan was to follow this up to a certain point where the track jinks left, but then make a bee line for Lough Talt. Thankfully the rain didn’t last long and half hour or so out came sun again and stayed out for remainder of the day.

So we travelled onwards along this ancient landscape. Estimated at 900 and odd million years old compared to Benbulben at being 250 million. There’d be some great places along here through its hidden valleys for some bouldering and climbing practice and not too far a hike from the road.

Good spot for a cuppa

There’s lots of scenic wee lakes along this section and any one of these would make a great picnic spot or to take a break, as they’re no doubt part of the reason for the abundant selection and the variety of wildlife we saw. Mountain hare, Curlew, Grey Heron, Wheateater, (also known as the white arse) and deer. We took a break at Lough Hoe as it’s near enough halfway mark for today. We liked the look of the gully descent to lough Talt, 400m NE from Hoe following the stream. Dunno why but I always gravitate towards gullies to explore. They often contain within their nooks and crannies hidden gems of flora/fauna or geologic marvels which you don’t find out on the plateau. Or their shelter may have been used in the past by herders or warriors. And this gully didn’t disappoint, although it was quite wet underfoot in parts  due to recent heavy rainfall, and not one I’d recommend in same conditions unless you’re wearing wellies or don’t mind getting feet wet. Plan this section of route after a dry spell.

 

Found some ruins of farmsteads which had been inhabited till probably the late 1800s or early 1900s though you’d not know this by their dilapidated state. Here the families use to bring their cows in at night so as the animals body heat would help warm the house. They’d a basement like area especially for this. Smart, but smelly I’d imagine. Imagine trying to sleep with a cow/cows downstairs farting all night. So we now hit our first section of road walk as we cross the main road at Largan and are now on the Sligo Way and continue along the quiet backroads up as far as the first T junction where we turn right, heading toward Mass

Mass Rock

Rock where priests and possibly St Patrick according to some, use to gather a congregation together to say mass. Apparently when the brits heard of this they came out and tried to demolish the rock, but weren’t able to and there the rock still stands today. This last part we heard about from a very friendly farmer we got chatting to as we passed his house. Round the corner from mass rock and 100m sees us home for the night where we’d cached our tents, sleeping bags and food for tomorrow at Ox Mountain Adventure Camp.

Soup’s ready
Taken from the comfort of a nice warm tent

Tent pitched in minutes, great night spent around campfire relaxing, eating and catching up with third member of our team who’d joined us there and had a very different approach to accommodation in mind for himself. Try it without the tent, all night in the lashing rain. You’d have to see the pics to believe it, and yes it did rain for hours. Good food for thought, and a good way for light weight travel, although I do know that the equipment used for this is quite expensive. As I heard Iain Miller say one time, you might aim to carry the lightest bag but often this means you’ll also have the lightest wallet as this comes at a cost. Although it shows what’s possible with a little creativity. Mark wasn’t planning on leaving anything behind cached for later pick up and carrying all out with him on tomorrows leg which was always gonna be the tougher of the two days.

And the weather was magnificent after the rain had stopped and it was like this for the first couple of hours, we departed at 9 and we just crossed the road and started to climb on up keeping to the left of Tullyvellia lakes and on toward Cloonacool lakes, heading N/NE sticking to the higher ground as much as possible. Our next objective was Knockalongy, the highest point in the Ox Mountains and to get there we wanted to hit a saddle at G490:260 but we decided to avoid spot height 512 as this seemed like needless extra climbing and the weather had turned. I’ve heard this weather described as pea soup. Well what we found ourselves in was pea soup with shades on, and we weren’t wearing shades. Still, time for a cuppa and we found a nice peat hag to shelter behind.

We never hit our saddle and somehow ended up well to the right and down into the re-entrant below it, and I couldn’t figure out how we’d managed to lose so much height and had to climb back up. We were using two maps for this area. Sheet 24 and 25, osi series and it’s often tricky working 2 maps in rotten weather, I think now we hadn’t gained as much height in the first place and in those conditions

The peat hags

it’d be best to hit 512 as a marker. I’d never actually stringed these two maps together, out on the ground so to speak, and it’d would prove impossible to take a bearing to our saddle, as it’s two maps and 1 is paper and in a case. But we’d cross the river, head for the forestry boundary and handrail this to our destination, but take heed, this is not the case and if you do follow the handrail, it’ll not take you anywhere near Knockalongy.

Follow the contours of the hills as this boundary is a manmade landmark and the trees are not pla
nted anywhere near this height and it must be that Coillte just owns the land and hasn’t planted on it, doubtful or it’s an OSI mistake. Thankfully I knew this already and we didn’t really put a foot wrong and found our CP in short order. The giant peat hags are part of what makes this such a challenge and we’d been in them for a while and had more to encounter. Up down around up down around, and just coming into the sea of slop, (area between Knockalongy and Knockachree) progress slow and again trying to keep on a bearing is a nightmare, looking for the cairn. Missed it but not by much according to GPS, which we hadn’t been using but had only taken out once previously to verify location, and again here to do same. We were just to the left of it and from here we’re just heading east near enough and descending toward spot height 326 in the forestry. Don’t mind the map though as it would suggest you’d be bush whacking forever but this is not the case. You can handrail edge of forest to G524:286 and from here follow obvious shoulder down to the track it leads to. You do have to get into trees but only for maybe 60m or so and the change of terrain I thought was in fact quite pleasant.

From the track to the road at the Ladies Brae and the challenge was to head on up over the next few hills, toward the big mast and from here hike home, although at this stage we’re all a bit wrecked and some were talking taxi, however we decided on a compromise. We’d forget the next few hills and just take the road back to Coolaney, and this is what we ended up doing. And the pint of Guinness in the happy landing, where we very happily landed never tasted so good. So we’d hiked roughly 50k and climbed up and down 900 and something meters, and over some v rough terrain and in all weather conditions, who could ask for more. Total time on the move was 19 hours, although it could be done faster, although it wasn’t a race. As a v smart guy once said it’s better to go for a walk that lasts 45 mins than it is to go for a 45 min walk. It’s about taking time to enjoy it, take snaps and ensure all in group are well and happy to continue, or to be able and willing to change route and plans if need arises. Definitely a tough challenge and looking forward to doing it again.

 

Your expert guide

Your Expert Guide

 

Niall English is a qualified outdoor
adventure instructor and a member of Mountaineering Ireland,
Environmental Officer with the Sligo Mountaineering Club and has led expeditions and climbed in Australia, Sardinia, Scotland Wales and all over Ireland.

We’ve also got a network of trained industry professionals on speed dial waiting to take care of your every need from water sports to wilderness therapy, coasteering, camping and a lot more besides. So why not let us be your 1st choice for an adventure break next time you’re in the north west or possibly we can arrange to come to you.

Why not make an appointment to call
Phone (353) 0860767812

or any of the various methods of communication, leave a message and I’ll get back to asap.

All the best and take care, faithfully, N.

Where are we – North WestTown of the roses

Local amenities

5 min drive from the heart of the Ox Mountains where you’ll find all the mountain challenges you could hope for with varying degrees of difficulty, so there’ll be something for everyone. A variety of local wildlife and plants worth writing home about.

And for the more historically/ geologically minded, there’s lots to choose from with ancient ring forts, old famine villages, a holy well and lots more archaeological interests. Hawks rock and check out link the hungry rock: for a song the very talented Dan Leydon put up a few years back on a visit.

The Owenmore River full of fish and several close by lakes. Some are well known, others well hid and you’d need local knowledge to find them. Ten minutes will take you to the coast and twenty to Sligo town or to the unmistakable Benbulben, whdsc01033ich is steeped in tradition and folklore. The majestic  Glencar  valley, Dartry and Bricklieve mountains also within easy reach.

Located right at the foot of the ox mountains is Coolaney, known as the north west town of the roses where a warm welcome awaits you and the crack’s always mighty  in our three pubs. There’s plenty of selection in accommodation with various bed and breakfasts or self-catering options to choose from. You’ll find a church and a crèche and also a playground and football pitch, a campsite currently under construction, Mountain biking and every water sport  you can think of, and probably some you wouldn’t. Wotchoo waiting for?