Search Results : Tyrone

Feb 162013

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.


MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 13; downloadable map/instructions at

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

GRADE: Moderate

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:;
This walk is based on:

INFORMATION: Omagh Tourist Office – 028-8224-7831

 Posted by at 4:38 pm
Sep 242011

Irish Independent Walk of the Week Christopher Somerville

first published 10 September 2011

112: The Causeway, Killeter, Co. Tyrone

If you’re going to walk way out in the moorlands, and especially in the real high back country of West Tyrone, then you can’t do better than have Martin Bradley at your side. Martin is Tyrone’s countryside officer, so bog myrtle and sphagnum moss, traditional sheep farming practices and the run of field boundaries are just naturally meat and drink to him.

Up on the border between Tyrone and Donegal we parked the car and set out – not down a winding sheep track or a gravelled bog road, but along what must once have been a great and important highway. There’s no mistaking The Causeway in this gently rolling landscape. The broad strip of the upland thoroughfare runs as straight as a die, heading roughly north-east and south-west, unrolling into hollows and up over the back of the moors. Bootprints and sheep slots indent it; fleets of rainwater glint in its furrows, brilliant green and scarlet patches of sodden sphagnum make splash-traps for unwary walkers. You can’t mistake it, and if you have even a squirt of rambling blood in your veins, you can’t resist its summons.

‘I was looking at an old map,’ said Martin as we put our backs to the wind and a spat of rain, ‘and I noticed a dotted line running straight across the moors. The name “Causeway Hill” just off the line seemed to be a good clue, and talking to locals I found out that they’d always known of it.’

Big views unfurled as we walked the hilly country of West Tyrone; the shark tooth of Errigal away in the north-west, far glimpses of the Sperrin Hills in the east, and behind us the old road rising arrow-straight through the Black Gap towards the empty lands of south Donegal where Lough Derg and the great inland sea of Lower Lough Erne lay hidden by the swell of the land. Could The Causeway have been trodden out as a route to those loughs, for pilgrimage or trade purposes? ‘Well,’ Martin said, ‘I think it could be two thousand years old at least, maybe older. There might be a wooden log trackway under what we see today; excavation would tell us that. But it’s certainly not a famine road. An Iron Age date seems a possibility.’

The bog each side is busy reclaiming The Causeway, enfolding it in a solid blanket of grassy peat. Below that covering, though, the whole trackway is ditched, embanked and provided with neat stone culverts – evidence that it has been used, and highly valued, for a very long time. During the Second World War, Martin told us, The Causeway was a well-trodden smuggling route, bringing milk and meat on the hoof from Donegal into a ration-hit Tyrone.

These boglands are threaded by the Pollan Burn and watered by more than enough rainfall. Plants that love wet and acid conditions grow in abundance: insect-devouring sundews, heath bedstraw, bell heather and bright pink bogbean. Pipits and wheatears flit away, skylarks fill the air with unceasing song. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for an upland walk – and if you don’t care for the sight of wind-farms, you’d better set out soon.

Down in the valley we turned along the road through the townland of Magherakeel. An ancient church, perhaps 6th-century in foundation, beside an old white-washed school cabin; a graveyard full of angel-carved headstones; a holy well where St Patrick once stopped for a drink and a bit of a sit-down. Danny Gallan of Killeter Historical Society met us at the well, having turned out on this rainy afternoon to unravel the story of it all.

An ancient trackway over a hill, a fund of history and legend along a country lane. Probably every square mile of rural Ireland holds as much, if only we knew where to look, and who to help us seek it.


Map: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 12.

TRAVEL: (2 cars): From Castlederg (B72 or B50) follow Killeter signs. From Killeter, follow ‘St Patrick’s Well, St Caireall’s Church’.
Leave one car opposite holy well; continue in other car to T-junction; left on Shanaghy road for 3 miles (5 km). Opposite small quarry with double gates on right, turn left along rough track (‘Causeway Walk’). In 150 m park on bend by barrier (‘Causeway Hill’ waymark).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Yellow arrow points right, but you go left past barrier. Follow The Causeway for 3¾ miles (6 km). At foot of lane (yellow arrow), left along country road. At ‘Mellon’s Glen’ signboard, detour left through gate. In 50 m, right at cross-inscribed stone to Mass altar. Return and continue along road. At T-junction, left and left again up Magherakeel Road. Pass lime kiln and St Caireall’s Church to return to St Patrick’s Well.

LENGTH: 5 miles/8 km: allow 2½ – 3 hours


CONDITIONS: Very boggy underfoot in places. Boots, gaiters, waterproof trousers advised.

• Bog flowers
• Views of Blue Stack Mts and Mt Errigal
• Mass altar in Mellon’s Glen.


ACCOMMODATION: Marian McHugh, Glen House, 30 Aghalunny Rd, Killeter BT81 7EZ (028-8167-1983) – offers drop-off and pick-up at start and finish of walk.

GUIDED WALKS: Martin Bradley (028-7131-8473; 079-2678-5706, Martin

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;
Tourist Information Centre: Strabane (028-718-84444);
National Trails Day, 2 October: Walks, trails, fun events across Ireland (

BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

 Posted by at 3:29 pm
Nov 282009

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

28 November 2009

36. Vinegar Hill Loop, Sperrin Hills, Co. Tyrone

Two separate but related delights awaited Jane and me at the foot of the Barnes Gap – a glorious day of sunshine over the Sperrin Hills, and the sight of Martin McGuigan clambering out of his van with his walking boots on. Inveterate hill walker and mountaineer Martin, fit and springy, is exactly the man you want with you in the Sperrins. This wild range of fells, straddling the waist of County Tyrone, is his native ground; and not only does he know every inch of the hills, he has just been instrumental in putting together the brand new Vinegar Hill Looped Walk around the beautiful and lonely glen of Gorticashel.

‘Mullaghcarn with the peaked head, down there in the south,’ said Martin, pointing out the landscape features from the heights of the narrow Barnes Gap, ‘and the central Sperrins all around us here. Then what I’d call the High Sperrins to the north there through the Gap. Of course we’d never have had this view if it wasn’t for the Ice Age. The glaciers scraped and shaped all the hills you can see; and then when they were melting they formed a huge lake, and when that overflowed it just burst through a weak spot in the rock and formed the Gap itself.’

A landscape with dynamic origins, and an exceptionally beautiful one. From the old stony road that winds like a scarf around the upper shoulders of the Gorticashel glen we looked down into a silent bowl of fields, some green with good grazing, others hazed under bracken and sedge. Abandoned farmsteads lay dotted across the slopes, each rusted roof of corrugated iron an orange blob among tattered shelter trees – eloquent testimony to the hardships faced by small country farms these days.

‘Lazybed strips.’ Martin’s finger pointed out the corduroy rows on the slopes of the glen. We tried to imagine the work involved in wresting a family’s living out of a lazybed. ‘I’ve dug rows like that myself,’ Martin observed. ‘It’s hard enough work. You dig a trench and turn the soil over onto the next ridge, grass to grass, to make a domed top and undercut sides. Spuds and cabbages. The biggest crop I had was half a ton out of ten rows, each maybe twenty yards long. So lazybeds are very effective – but they’d break your back.’

Two ravens passed overhead, planing downwind with a harsh cronk! We paused on Vinegar Hill beside one of the tumbledown cottages, its rafters half smothered with fuchsia and Himalayan balsam, its fireplace choked with tendrils of ivy that were feeling their way blindly, like pale tentacles, out into the room among the wrecks of chairs and dresser. Martin fingered the balsam, ruminating. ‘These flowers were a big thing in my childhood. The bees would go crazy for them, and we’d see how many we could catch in a jam jar before we got stung!’

Down where the Gorticashel Burn ran under a bridge, a ferny old mill house stood hard against the bank, with an ancient potato-digging machine on its mossy cobbles. Sparrows went flocking through a cotoneaster bush on a farmhouse wall. At Scotch Town we found the crossroads guarded by a handsome rooster in a tippet of gleaming ginger feathers. Near Garvagh, as we turned for our homeward step, a great roadside shed stood provisioned for the winter with dried sods of turf.

This whole glen speaks eloquently of the life and work of family farms, present and past. Now, with the opening of the Vinegar Hill Loop, cheerful voices will be heard around the abandoned steadings and boots will tread the forgotten green roads of Gorticashel once more.

MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 13; downloadable map/instructions soon to be available at

TRAVEL: From B74 between Plumbridge and Draperstown, follow brown ‘Barnes Gap’ tourist signs. Park in car park/toilet/picnic area (OSNI ref. H 551905) at foot of Mullaghbane Road by ‘Plumbridge 5’ sign.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Walk up the upper Barnes gap road (‘Craignamaddy Circuit/CC, Ulster Way’ sign) past farm (barking dogs!). Right along Magherbrack Road for ⅓ mile; left (552896; CC) along dirt road. Follow it round Gorticashel Glen for 2 miles to road near Irish Town (558873). Right for ⅔ mile to crossroads in Scotch Town (548875; ‘Gortin’ left, ‘Plumbridge’ right). Straight across here and over next 2 crossroads (544875 and 538880) for 1 mile, to pass turning on left (536883 – tarmac stops here). Ahead for 300 metres; right (534885; ‘Vinegar Hill Loop’) on stony lane. Follow it for 1⅓ miles to road (550892). Forward to Barnes Gap road; left to car park.

LENGTH: 7 miles: allow 3 hours


CONDITIONS: Minor roads, country lanes

• views from Barnes Gap – north to High Sperrins, south to Mullaghcarn
• old mill and potato digger at Scotch Town bridge
• standing stone behind hedge near Garvagh (ref. 538881)


ACCOMMODATION: Crosh Lodge, 22 Plumbridge Road, Newtownstewart (024-8166-1421) – £46 dble B&B

OPERATORS/COMPANIES: Walk On The Wild Side (024-8075-8452 or 07714-835-977;

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;

Vinegar Hill Loop Launch: 12 December 2009; everybody welcome; contact Martin McGuigan on 024-8075-8452 or 07714-835-977;

INFORMATION: Tourist Information Centre, Strule Arts Centre, Omagh (024-8224-7831);;

 Posted by at 2:12 pm
Apr 182009

‘I take groups of people of all ages and stages out walking all over this area,’ said Martin McGuigan as he steered his minibus up to Crockataggart, ‘and I can honestly say I enjoy every single outing. There’s something about the Sperrin Hills – they’re not exactly mighty mountains, you know, but they do have a kind of magic, a wild magic, to them.’

The few houses of Crockataggart, tin-roofed and ruinous, were slowly collapsing into the arms of ferns and mosses. We climbed away up the mountain road, riding our luck between rain bursts, watching in awe and appreciation as dense rainstorms went charging across the plains of Antrim some forty miles off, diluting the silvery gleam of Lough Neagh to a misty gauze.

Up on the saddle of Crockmore we swung to the west, a gentle climb on a rain-sodden green road that bought us to the summit of Crockbrack where a big wind was blowing. The view simply stopped us in our tracks. There can’t have been less than a hundred miles in view, with the olive-and-grey shoulders of the Sperrins dominating the middle distance. Of all the mountain peaks and ridges in view, it was the solitary bulk of Slieve Gallion down in the southeast that caught our eye as a rogue bar of light slid across it.

‘Do you know that song called ‘Slieve Gallion Brae’?’ enquired Martin. I didn’t. Would he give me a lick of it? Oh, you wouldn’t like my singing at all. Like an old crow. Well, I could maybe give it a go … After a minute or so of contemplation and tune-gathering, Martin put back his head and diffidently sang:

‘As I woke up one morning, all in the month of May,
To view all your valleys and mountains so gay,
I was dreaming of the flowers that were going to decay,
That blow upon your bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion brae.’

The retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age and ten ensuing millennia of weathering had kindly provided us with seat-shaped rocks on which to munch our sandwiches in a green cleft at the head of the infant Drumderg River. Goat’s cheese and tomato – is there a finer filling anywhere on God’s earth?

Idling in this cleft of the eastern Sperrins with the hill burns trickling and a stonechat gushing out his metallic little call, I reflected on the marvellous but eerie emptiness of this mountain range. The Sperrins seem caught under a cloak of invisibility. Long may that continue, I thought with selfish pleasure as I brushed the last crumbs of goat’s cheese from my knees.

The lichen-draped fence led us up to the gentle summit of Craigbane, where a stony lane ran away eastward. Blood-red lanterns of fuchsia bobbed to each raindrop in the hedges as we came off the mountains and through a derelict farmyard. An old iron boiler lay under a bush. ‘I was one of 16 children,’ Martin remarked, prodding it reflectively with his boot, ‘and we’d boil up our potatoes in a thing like this, and a bit of swill for the pig.’

We strolled on through green pastures, chatting and yarn-spinning as we made for Crockataggart along a path known as Hudy’s Way. ‘Oh, it’s named after Hudy McGuigan,’ said Martin, ‘now he would have been a relation of mine, way back. A bit of a local character. He’d ride his horse around stark naked. And there was one time he tried to fly off a mountain with a pair of goose-feather wings. Did he succeed? Well – he came down to earth with a bang, let’s say …’

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Series Sheet 13.

Bus: Sperrin Rambler Service 403 runs to Draperstown from Magherafelt and Omagh (02890-666630;
Road: A31 to Magherafelt; B40 to Draperstown and Moneyneany. Just before entering Moneyneany, left (OS ref 754967 – Ulster Way sign) up side lane. In ½ mile, right (Ulster Way/Hudy’s Way signs). In another ½ mile, park – neatly, please! – at ‘Crockataggart’ sign beside farm (741969).

From Crockataggart sign, left up lane (‘Ulster Way’) to summit of Crockmore (725955). Right on green road towards Crockbrack; follow fence over summit of Crockbrack (718957). Where side fence descends to right (712958), follow it into glen at head of Drumderg River (712964) and up to cross fence on Craigbane by stile (711970). Right along stony lane beside fence. In ½ mile ignore track joining on left (719974); continue down as stony surface gives way to tarmac. When nearly under power lines, right through gate by ruined house (738973; ‘Hudy’s Way’). Keep same line across field to fence. Left to descend, cross stile, then cross Drumderg River by steel bridge (740972). Up steps, cross field, up track to Crockataggart.

LENGTH: 6 miles

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Undemanding mountain walk – but take raingear, walking boots.

• view from Crockbrack
• picnic in glen at head of Drumderg River

REFRESHMENTS: None en route – take picnic

ACCOMMODATION: Laurel Villa Townhouse, 60 Church Street, Magherafelt, Co. Derry BT45 6AW (02879-301459; – friendly, well-run family house, with a strong liking for poets and poetry! From £70 dble B&B.

WALKING COMPANY/GUIDE: Martin McGuigan, Walk On The Wild Side (02880-758452 / 07714-835-977;

Details of dozens of local short, medium and long walks in Northern Ireland at
Sperrins Tourism (; Northern Ireland Tourist Board (

Tourist Office: Burn Road, Cookstown (028-8676-9949)

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

18 April 2009

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Apr 092013

Sheila the sheepdog came grinning up to us as we put on our boots outside the Sliabh Beagh Hotel. ‘She’s not long back from maternity leave,’ Paddy Sherry told us, ‘but she’ll be coming with us.’ Was she his? ‘Ah, no,’ said Paddy, ‘but she won’t let anyone leave her out of a walk.’

A true word. Sheila proved an excellent leader, guiding us unerringly across the squashy southern skirts of Sliabh Beagh, the low mountain of damp blanket bogs and hollows that rises where three counties meet – Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Monaghan where the Tra Walk is set. Sheila had little to say for herself. The same couldn’t be said of Paddy Sherry, a man who rejoices in introducing walkers to the hidden crannies of his native country, and isn’t afraid to share its myths, geology, history and wildlife delights with all comers. Paddy and others in the local community work like Trojans to bring life and a bit of prosperity to their often disregarded area – everything from building their own Sliabh Beagh Hotel and Tourism Centre (the hub of the community hereabouts) to laying out a whole system of country walks.

We set out up a lane between the small fields of late-cut hay so typical of Monaghan’s back-country farms. The verges were a spatter of wild flowers – gold St John’s wort, pink and white dog roses, tall purple thistles, pink bursts of ragged robin and tall common spotted orchids of every hue between white and mauve. A donkey in an adjacent field let off a tremendous klaxon of a bray that made us all jump and giggle.

The lane snaked to and fro, gradually gaining height through thickets of young alder and silver birch, to bring us out at last into the open blanket bog that spreads itself far and wide on the slopes of Sliabh Beagh. ‘As a young lad I used to dread father saying he was going to the bog,’ Paddy said, ‘because I knew that’d be it for the summer – I’d be baked, frozen, soaked to the skin or ate alive by midges! It’s only recently that I’ve seen the bog for what it is – magic and beautiful, a place for wildlife to be undisturbed, a place for solitude. I call it my psychiatrist’s chair, you know…’

The psychiatrist’s chair today was adorned with golden stars of bog asphodel, butterfly orchids and milkmaid, the pale springtime bloom that some call cuckoo flower or lady’s smock. ‘We all owe the bog our water,’ said Paddy, ‘this is where it all comes from,’ and we believed him as we squelched and skidded across the brilliant red and green sphagnum, as soaked as any sponge, and hurdled ditches glinting black and oily with deep bog water. ‘I bring kids up here and get them to jump in there,’ Paddy told us. ‘They come out black all over, wellies full, and laughing fit to burst. That’s the way to get them to appreciate all this – hands on.’

A juicy, sloppy track beside gunmetal-grey Lough Antrawer and we were dropping down the long road home, with distant Slieve Gullion and the rolling high ground of Cavan spread before us to sweeten the way back to Knockatallon.


MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 18, 27; also ‘Sliabh Beagh’ map (from Sliabh Beagh Development Association, 028-6775-1918,; map/route card from Sliabh Beagh Hotel (see below).

TRAVEL: From Monaghan Town, N54 towards Clones. Right on outskirts of town on R186 (‘Balinode, Scotstown, Sliabh Beagh’). Through Balinode to Scotstown; over crossroads in Scotstown; in 500m, right on minor road for 3 miles/5 km to T-junction at Strathnahincha Bridge, Drumcoo. Left to Sliabh Beagh Hotel.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Sliabh Beagh Hotel, right down road. In ½ mile/0.8 km, at left bend before bridge, turn right (Tra Walk’/TW). In ¾ mile/1.5 km, at turning circle (TW post 36), right past iron post up grass path. In 250 m keep ahead (not left fork). Path ascends; in 400 m fork left (TW post 38 on left) for nearly 1 mile (1.5 km), passing radio mast at summit of Stramacilroy townland. At crossroads of paths with green/black metal barriers, right (TW post). In ¾ mile (1.5 km), right at TW post 40. In ½ mile (0.7 km), just past quarry, Sliabh Beagh Way goes left across footbridge; but you keep following stony track of TW. At Lough Antrawer stay left of fence along left side of lake, then follow succession of TW posts across wet bogland (beware deep ditches!) and 2 metal bridges, up to stony road (TW post 51). Right for 2 miles to road near Strathnahincha Bridge; right to Sliabh Beagh Hotel.

LENGTH: 7½ miles/12 km; allow 3-4 hours


CONDITIONS: Mostly lanes and good forests/bog roads; very wet and sloppy around Lough Antrawer. Watch out for deep ditches near the lough!

• Sensational flowers of the bog
• Wonderful views south over Slieve Gullion and Monaghan/Cavan countryside

REFRESHMENTS/ACCOMMODATION/INFORMATION: Sliabh Beagh Hotel and Tourism Centre, Knockatallon, Co. Monaghan (047-89014; – friendly, well-informed community hotel, the hub of walking and social activity locally. €70 dble B&B

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Picnic tables at Knockanearla quarry

GUIDED WALKS: Paddy Sherry, Boots ‘n’ Bogs (087-252-5457;

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: and

BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

INFORMATION: Monaghan Tourist Office (047-81122;

Words: 917

 Posted by at 2:20 pm
Feb 162013

Marty and Mary McGuigan stepped out of their van in a Dungiven lay-by to greet us, looking as spry as ever. It was good to see them again. Mary is a great hill-walker in her own right, and as for Marty – what that man doesn’t know about his native Sperrin Hills of Tyrone and Derry isn’t worth the knowing. Every time I’ve been walking with Marty he’s filled the day with talk, song, conjecture and jokes, and today was no sort of exception.

We drove the narrow hill road that winds up the south-west angle of Benbradagh and parked at the top of the lane. Benbradagh – Binn Bhradach, the Thief’s Mountain, no-one knows why – dominates Dungiven the way Benbulben dominates Sligo, a mighty presence at the back of the town, wedge-shaped and green as it hangs half-way up the sky. Grey slopes of bouldery scree tumble from its peak, contributing to the wild look and reputation of the mountain.

We turned north into a blustery wind and went towards the peak, scrambling over tied-up gates and walking along a roadway surfaced with old hardstanding and flanked by intriguing blocks of concrete set with rusty iron stanchions. Plainly others had been here before us, with some industrial purpose. Before we could speculate further, though, we were over the last of the gates and out on the open mountain, scattering black-faced sheep as we followed a path up towards the long escarpment that forms the summit of Benbradagh.

The wind poured up over the edge, whipping at the grasses and the wild flowers dotted among them – heath bedstraw, heartsease, trembling sky-blue harebells, clumps of wild thyme. We knelt to pinch them and sniff our fingers, while dredging up from our collective memories an old tune and the words to go with it:

“Come all you maidens brisk and gay,
All you that flourish in your prime,
Beware and take care, and keep your garden fair,
And let no man steal your bonny bunch of thyme.”

So singing, we stared at the view, one of the finest in County Derry – the sunlit lowlands around Dungiven striped with little traditional fields, the north Sperrins rolling away like sombre waves in the south-west, Lough Foyle lying north-west like a steel tongue, and tabular Muckish and conical Errigal standing out in Donegal on the western skyline.

Could the wild mountain that owns this stupendous prospect really conceal the deadly secret that the Internet websites whisper about – a nuclear bunker, built by the US Navy at the height of the Cold War? Certainly the US had a low-rise signal base, modestly concealed on a boggy plateau, constructed up here in the late 1960s to service a cluster of tall radio masts that shuttled messages to and from US Navy ships out in the North Atlantic. It also, in all probability, acted as a hotline between Pentagon and Kremlin in the dark days of the 1960s and 70s when it looked as though an itchy finger might stab the red button at any moment.

We found the remnants of the old base beside the ‘American Road’, the supply road the US Navy built to supply their station – hut bases, conduits, strange holes, chambers, vents and snipped-off wires. An eerie place, desolated and resonant with Cold War foreboding. Later I looked up Navcomsta Dungiven online, and found images of the site (see below), all the way from big blokes in donkey jackets in a sea of bog and concrete mixers, to the opening by splendid brass hats, and operation by pallid and bespectacled techies, as clever as professors with their switches and dials.

On the way back to the car, Marty McGuigan taught us how to vault a five-barred gate. Now that’s what I call clever.


MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 8

TRAVEL: Dungiven is on A6 (Belfast-Derry) between Maghera and Claudy. Entering Dungiven from Maghera (Belfast) direction, turn right up Curragh Road past school. Continue for 4 km/2½ miles, to park at the end of the road high on Benbradagh.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Climb over the gate and turn left along stony roadway, climbing over several fastened gates. By a radio station walk ahead towards Benbradagh, keeping fence on your left. At a metal pole, left across stile; follow track up and along summit. Return same way to gate by road end; turn left here along the ‘American Road’ as far as the signal station site. Go further down the American Road if you wish (superb views), or return to car.

LENGTH: 5 km/3 miles – allow 1½ hours


CONDITIONS: Surfaced tracks or hill paths – these could be squashy after rain.

• View west from Benbradagh over Lough Foyle, Inishowen and the north-western Sperrin Hills
• Relics of the American signal station
• Views from the American Road towards Slemish and the Derry and Antrim Hills

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic on Benbradagh, or plenty of cafés/pubs in Dungiven.

ACCOMMODATION: Eugene and Gerardine Kielt, Laurel Villa Townhouse, Magherafelt (028-7930-1459; – from £80 dble B&B – the famed ‘House of Poetry’, the perfect base for exploring the northern Sperrins.

US Navy Base:

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;

DERRY TOURIST OFFICE: 028-7126-7284;;

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Oct 242009

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

24 October 2009

31. Croaghan, Co. Antrim

The sky over County Antrim was a slate grey bar pressing down on the horizon. The forest steamed. Swirling curls of mist drifted across moor and mountain. The peak of Croaghan stood wrapped in silvery, backlit cloud. Jane and I sat in the car at Altarichard as rain spattered the windows, and wondered what to do. Give up now? Have a go and hang the weather? Well – let’s do the walk back to front, starting in the forest. The trees’ll give us a bit of shelter, and Croaghan will have a chance to kick off the cloud blankets before we get there.

Rain bounced off our noses and shoulders. The forest ran with water. Every channel was a bubbling, noisy millrace under brilliant green mats of sphagnum. Fly agaric fungi raised their toxic heads under the conifers, the rim of each shining scarlet cap nibbled into lace. What could eat a fly agaric without tripping out into insanity and death? Wow, man. There must be some highly psychedelic insects in the Antrim forests.

‘A five-star wet forest, half land and half water,’ murmured Jane, picking blueberries beside the track. Each bush was hung with gleaming fruit, a raindrop pendulous from every berry. Gradually the rain slackened, and patches of blue began to spread like celestial butter across the western sky. After the deluge, the Ugly Bugs Ball. Heather and grass suddenly crawled with life: spiders with hugely swollen white abdomens, steel-blue thrips with feathery wings, fat buttery caterpillars, a lumbering black oil beetle as long as the top joint of my thumb. A small copper butterfly, sensing the sun about to emerge, opened wings of burnt orange vividly spotted with patches of deep charcoal grey.

Out in the open we splashed and slid through patches of sodden turf and heather clumps pearled with moisture, then turned in among the trees once more. Walking north on the edge of Corvarrive, a wonderful view opened out ahead across the Antrim farmlands to the domed green head of Knocklayd streaked with ancient erosion channels, and beyond the mountain the white and black cliffs of Rathlin Island out at sea a dozen miles off.

A last long stretch through spruce, up to the knees in sucking bog, the fallen boughs draped with mats of moss like shaggy green yaks, goldcrests calling seep-seep from the topmost sprigs. Then out onto the open hillside, forging up the north flank of Croaghan on a well-beaten path trickling with water, through heather bristly with old dried sprouts of bog asphodel. In clear sky on the top of Croaghan, a blasting wind and a mighty view. To the north behind the grey hummock of Knocklayd and its pimple of a summit cairn, the ghost of Rathlin sliding in and out of the grey and white slabs of rain pounding the coast. In the south a forest of wind turbines semaphoring beyond Slieveanorra. And to the west a heavenly prospect of sunlit plains, with more rain making ready to sweep in over the border from the Sperrin Hills in cloudy Tyrone.

As we squelched down over the moor on the homeward path, I all but trod on a beautifully camouflaged frog, as olive-coloured and gleaming as the mud he crouched in. One easy, remarkable jump took him ten frog-lengths away into a patch of sphagnum. There he squatted, gulping rhythmically, waiting with all the monumental patience of nature for me to move on out of his sphere.


MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 5; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at

A44 Ballymena towards Ballycastle; in 17 miles, right to Magherahoney; left across Bush River, first right, then first left (brown ‘Orra Scenic Route’ signs); Altarichard car park is on left in 1½ miles.

WALK DIRECTIONS: NB The walk as recommended here follows the official Croaghan loop in reverse; direction arrows are on reverse of guide posts! From car park (OSNI ref D 124293), right along road, round 2 bends; take first forest road on left (past metal gate). In 300 m it doglegs right (132297), then left (red arrows/RA, and blue arrows/BA); then runs NNW for ⅔ mile to T-junction (129306). Left (RA, BA) for 100 m (very boggy!) to post (RA, BA); right over stile to post; left for 200 m along forest edge; right (126306; RA, BA) into forest. In 200 m, left (RA, BA) up forest road. In 150 m, Blue Route turns left towards Croaghan mountain (124308; BA), but continue ahead. In 1⅓ miles, Moyle Way (MW) comes in from grassy path ahead (129327; yellow arrows); follow forest road uphill to left, and on for ½ mile. Turn left off Moyle Way (124331; RA) up side road. Where road ends, bear left (RA) up grassy ride (very boggy!) to edge of trees (117316; RA). Follow posts uphill across moorland to summit of Croaghan (118308); aim for car park 1 mile away.

LENGTH: 6 miles: allow 3 hours

GRADE: Easy/Moderate

CONDITIONS: Very boggy in parts after rain; wellingtons or waterproof boots!

• views of Knocklayd and Rathlin Island
• views from Croaghan


GUIDE BOOKLET: Guide to Walking Causeway Coast & Glens from TICs

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;


Tourist Office: Mary Street, Ballycastle (028/048-2076-2024);;

 Posted by at 2:07 pm
May 252009

They had all the flags out in Swatragh for the Derry County Senior Hurling Final. ‘Horse it into them, Swa!’ urged a big hand-painted banner by the roadside. Sadly, it was Dungiven who horsed it into Swatragh that particular afternoon, 0-12 to 0-8. But I don’t suppose the men of Swa ever hold back too much. Learning your hurling in the shadow of Carntogher would be an inspiration to anyone, the long sloping shoulder of mountain lying at your back like the mother of all goalies, or the great hurler Cuchulainn himself.

Down in the glen of the Altkeeran River all was sedgy, the fields dotted with rushes and the streamsides with scrub trees where long-tailed tits went pit-peet-ing among the silver birches. The old coach road along the glen gave firm footing through the turf which squelched and bounced under every incautious step. Streams ran orange from the iron minerals of the mountain, up whose green flank Jane and I turned to climb towards the Snout of the Cairn. The views widened the higher we went – the hard humpy outline of Slemish due east in Antrim, the neat grouping of Mourne peaks 60 miles off on County Down’s south-easterly skyline, and nearer at hand the rolling bulk of the Sperrin Hills across in Tyrone.

Pink conquistador helmets of lousewort clashed with virulent red sphagnum in the banks of the tumbled wall we were following. It lifted us to the shoulder of the mountain, and a track where we met our first and only walkers of the day, two men of a local townland who pointed out Slieve Gallion ten miles to the south (‘a Derry mountain, despite what you might hear’) with great precision and pride. ‘I’ve walked this path since I was a boy,’ said one, ‘and by God I will do it till the day that I die!’

Up at the Snout of the Cairn, Shane’s Leaps lay just off the path – three innocuous-looking rocks. Did that dashing and irrepressible 18th-century raparee Shane ‘Crossagh’ O’Mullan, the scar-faced outlaw whom all the ladies sighed for, really spring lightly from one to the next in the act of outwitting the lumbering English soldiery? So tales tell us, and how we like to picture such derring-do. Much more shadowed and sombre are the images the skull cinema brings up at the Emigrants’ Cairn, where the heart-stopping view to the hills of Donegal was the last that those walking over the mountains to the ships in Lough Foyle took away with them to ‘far Amerikay’.

Back across the slopes of Carntogher we went, following the boggiest of upland tracks, half peat and half puddle, past black heaps of iron-mining spoil to the top of the ridge and another most tremendous westward view, across the silver fishtail of Lough Foyle, on beyond the pale humps of Barnesmore and the Blue Stacks to the jagged spine of Errigal out at the edge of sight in western Donegal. Between Errigal and Mourne there cannot be fewer than a hundred miles. All Northern Ireland lay spread out for us, and we lingered long over this extraordinary feast.

On the way down we passed a Bronze Age cist grave, carefully labelled ‘Tuama ón Ré Chré Umha’. Now that might just mean ‘the old tomb from the Bronze Age’, but there was something about the little dark hole in the bank, slab-lined and secretive, that simply invited a taller and wilder tale. But no-one was there to tell it to us today.


MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 8; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at; map of trail at car park.

Bus (integrated website – Ulsterbus to Maghera (3 miles) or Swatragh (3½ miles)
Road: A29 (Coleraine-Maghera); minor roads to parking place by ruined cottage at Tullykeeran Bridge (OSNI ref C 819045).

WALK DIRECTIONS (red trail): Continue along road. 100 m beyond 3rd bridge, left over stile by cylindrical gatepost (red/blue arrows); follow track for ½ mile into Altkeeran Glen (805407 approx). Turn right up path by tumbledown wall (red/blue arrows on posts). In ¾ mile, stony track crosses path (800058 approx); left (red arrow) to Snout of the Cairn viewpoint at Emigrants’ Cairn and Shane’s Leap rocks (796058).
Retrace steps for 50 yards; left at post (red arrow) along grassy track to marker post on saddle of ground; walk 400 yards left here to ridge for great view over Lough Foyle and Donegal hills; return to marker post. Continue downhill along track for 2 miles, past cist grave (824061), through gates, down to road (823055). Right (red arrow) for 2 miles to car park.

LENGTH: 5½ miles: allow 3 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Mountain hike on hill tracks – wear boots, hillwalking gear. Take binoculars for spotting waymark posts! Very boggy between Snout of the Cairn and Lough Foyle viewpoint.

• View from Emigrants’ Cairn and Shane’s Leap Rocks
• View over Lough Foyle from ridge
• ‘Tuama ón Ré Chré Umha’ – cist grave

REFRESHMENTS: Rafters Bar and Restaurant, Swatragh (028-7940-1206); food all day, open fire, warm welcome.

ACCOMMODATION: Laurel Villa Townhouse, 60 Church Street, Magherafelt, Co. Derry BT45 6AW (02879-301459; – friendly, well-run ‘house of poets’. From £70 dble B&B.

GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Carntogher History Trail – see ‘Maps’ above

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;

INFORMATION: Magherafelt TIC (02879-631510);;

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

23 May 2009

 Posted by at 12:32 pm