The farmer at Eskeradooey – a proper County Tyrone hill farmer, neat, courteous and observant – was leaning on a gate at the entrance to his farmyard, a length of blue plastic piping in his hand by way of a switch. He waved us on politely. ‘We’re just bringing the sheep through now,’ he said, and true to his word there was a muted thunder of cloven hooves and sixty sheep came charging out of the field and across the yard, a sheepdog close at their heels.
‘Have you ever clipped sheep?’ the farmer asked us, rhetorically enough. One look at our soft hands must have given him the answer. ‘Well, stay here with us this morning and we’ll learn ye to clip!’ Jane and I would have been happy to do that, and our friend Inga – along for the fun today – looked ready for anything. But Harry had other things on his mind.
Harry is a wire-coated terrier, nurtured by Inga since she found him wandering the back roads of Donegal. He’s 19 years old, and thus officially superhuman. Last time we met, Harry had possessed a single, endearingly monstrous canine tooth that gave him an expression both prognathous and piratical. In the intervening year the tooth had dropped out, streamlining Harry’s snout like a disastrous overdose of botox. But he had retained enough bounce and pezazz to put to shame a dog half his age. Now rabbits, wet bog smells, sheep dung and the freedom of the hills fought for Harry’s attention as he led us away up the old mountain road from Eskeradooey.
It was a steady climb up the track, once a through route to the Owenkillew Valley and the high heart of the Sperrin Hills. Up at the saddle we stopped to take in one of the great Tyrone hill views, over the chequerboard fields of Owenkillew to the rolling, smooth-cheeked central Sperrins – Slievemore, Craignamaddy and Mullaghbane, with the higher profiles of Mullaghclogher and Mullaghasturrakeen beyond and above them, and the rounded heads of Dart Mountain and Sawel, summit of the range, looking over their shoulders in turn. Away in the north-west we were astonished to see a pure white cone, tiny and clear-cut against the sky, that looked the spit and image of Donegal’s highest peak, Mt Errigal. So it was, confirmed Inga, a resident of that county – Donegal’s finest, rising on the edge of sight some forty miles off.
The Robber’s Table, famed for its role as a rapparees’ hang-out, turned out to be no more than a flat double dome in the bog. Between the Table and the pass lay an ancient car, half-buried in peat, thoroughly squashed and smashed, its door open – a 1970s Chrysler, the kind the Professionals would have forward-rolled out of whilst cornering at high speed, .45 magnums blazing in both hands. Harry gave it a sniff, but found no glamour there. He was for questing on, the scent of something far funkier in his nostrils. But Inga, with afternoon appointments to keep, had to turn back.
Jane and I waved the two of them goodbye, and went on down into the Owenkillew Valley. Whatever farming communities once inhabited the slopes of the Robber’s Table and Curraghchosaly Mountain have all gone down the hill to the less harsh environs of the valley. The mountain is now a repository of ghost farmsteads with rusty roofs, cold chimneys and blank black windows, each with its shelter belt of wind-tattered pines or sycamores, neat huddles of buildings once snug, now stark and lifeless. You’d have to be made of stone not to feel their poignancy.
We found the parallel track back over to Lisnaharney glen, a rushy old road, wet and mossy. Long-abandoned turf banks made a giant’s geometry of the mountainside. The track led us back over the pass and down to the lower lands again, its course marked by foxgloves, gorse hedges, and swathes of grassheads in full flower – pink, mauve, milky green and pale crimson, a princely path to end the walk.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 13; downloadable map/instructions at walkni.com.
TRAVEL: Park at Gortin Glen Forest Park, on B48 Omagh-Gortin road (£3.50 cash). Bus: Ulsterbus 403 from Omagh
WALK DIRECTIONS: Return from car park to B48; left for 100m; right up Lisnaharney Road. In 2.2 km (1¼ miles) pass side road on right marked ‘Lisnaharney Public Right of Way’/PRW), in another 0.8 km (½ mile), turn right (‘Eskadooey PRW’). In 200m, right to farmyard at end of lane. Between buildings and farmhouse bear left up stony lane for 2.3 km (1⅓ miles) past Robber’s Table/RT and down to road. Right (‘RT’) for 0.7 km (nearly ½ mile); right up track (‘Lisnaharney PRW’, ‘RT’) past Curraghchosaly Mountain and down to road. Left for 2.2 km (1¼ miles) to B48 and forest car park.
LENGTH: 12.4 km/7½ miles
CONDITIONS: Rough hill track, boggy in places; gentle ascents.
• Beautifully kept sheep and cattle on the local farms
• Spectacular view from pass near Robber’s Table – north over Owenkillew Valley to central Sperrin, north-west to Muckish and Errigal
REFRESHMENTS: Picnic at the pass near Robber’s Table
ACCOMMODATION: Mullaghmore House, Old Mountfield Road, Omagh (028-8224-2314) – £78 B&B
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.walkni.com; www.discoverireland.ie/walking
This walk is based on: http://www.walkni.com/walks/116/robbers-table/
INFORMATION: Omagh Tourist Office – 028-8224-7831