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I had the most spectacular walk in Sligo last weekend and wanted to share a few pics. November is a very special time in the west, the quality of the light is quite exceptional and when the day is bright and cold the views are out of this world.

Lough Gill in Sligo is one of my favourite places to bring visitors. It has an unusual scale for an irish lake- it’s vast yet comprehensible and meets the forests and mountains in incredibly pleasing ways. At times of the year it strongly reminds me of a North American landscape, particularly in the autumn with the colours of the leaves and the winter sky in the evening.  Yeats wrote regularly about the lake, and it’s the home of his infamous Lake isle of Inishfree. It makes for a wonderful drive too, circling you from the Ballinode side of Sligo town right round to Carraroe, and is a perfect thing to do with a car on a less than beautiful day – with regular stop off opportunities at Parkes Castle, Dromahair, Slish Wood and Dooney Rock.

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I regularly stop at Dooney Rock with its glorious views over the span of the lake – its one of the few places where you can see how Knocknarea and Benbulben talk to each other across the Sligo landscape – but this weekend I had a friend with a baby in tow so even a light climb was out of the question with the buggy. We decided to try Slish Wood which has a super walking path all along the lake, perfect for a buggy.

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The light was insane – it was nearing sunset (about 4pm) and the lake has never looked so still. It was a perfect mirror for the sky as you can see in these photos. None of these have any post-production or photoshop trickery involved – they are just iPhone pics of how it was in reality.  If you want information on the Slish Wood walking trail visit the excellent new site SligoWalks.ie.

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It’s been a long while since I recommended a Sligo walk, I’ve just been going back to my usual trails so it was nice to rediscover one this weekend.  It was a perfect winters day- utterly freezing but very dry and not windy much.  I was heading out with a neighbour and some friends who wanted  a new walk so we headed for the ruin of Killaspugbrone (also called Killasbugbrone Church) in Strandhill.

Knocknarea from the Church covered in winter air frost

It’s a great walk, a ramble across the dunes – or the beach when the tide is out- and round the back of the airport which makes me smile.  When you get to Strandhill beach you turn right past the surf shop, instead of left along the shore which is the more usual walk out there.  This one works when the tide is all the way in, which makes it a great option if you get to Strandhill intending to walk to Culleenamore and discover the tide is in the way.

Strandhill Beach

You head out along the dunes and after about 5 or 10 minutes you want to head down to the right (away from the beach) and then walk parallel to the beach- you’ll see a series of brown walking posts with a celtic cross on them that you can follow to the church, or just head for the back of the airport.

After a brilliantly irish sign asking you to watch for low-flying aircraft, you cross the back of the runway and head for the ruin in the distance.  The Church itself is pretty special- it dates back to the 12th century but may be much older than that. There’s a great amount of info on a well maintained panel outside the church- courtesy of the Killaspugbrone Preservation Society– which details it’s connections to St. Patrick, and how the cemetery around the church was, unusually, multi-denominational.

It was the main burial place for the Coney Islanders and you can conjure up a vivid image of the mourners walking across the strand between island and church.  It tells of a settlement around the church at one time too- which had to relocate due to shifting tidal and land patterns.

Cast a cold eye...

The beaches to the left and right of the Church are wonderful, great shapes and with beautiful views, well worth an extra walk once you get there. All in all it can be anything from an hour long walk to a 2 hour ramble, and it’s reasonably firm going. Enjoy!

A beach overlooked by the church

 

Knocknarea - image from www.travelinireland.com

Knocknarea - image from http://www.travelinireland.com

One of my favourite walks in Sligo is definitely Knocknarea.  You can see the mountain and the tomb on top from all over Sligo and there is definitely something deeply satisfying in reaching the top.  The views are spectacular, and on a clear day you can see all five counties: Sligo, Mayo, Donegal, Leitrim and Roscommon…and maybe even the tip of Galway, but my geography isn’t good enough to work that out.

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The road on Knocknarea

 

Every time I go up I try to get pictures of the view from the top but I just don’t have a good enough camera to pick it out. All the fields spread below you like a patchwork quilt and Benbulben looks incredibly impressive .  It’s a real-life version of those 3-D plastic topographic moulds you got in geography class.

Maebh's cairn from a-top Knocknarea

Maebh's cairn from a-top Knocknarea

The most famous aspect to the Mountain is Queen Maeve‘s grave of course, which sits some 10 meters tall on top of Knocknarea. Legend has it she’s buried upright, protecting Sligo from her enemies in Ulster, hence the massive size of the thing. The powers that be are trying to address the conservation of the cairn and have a nice big sign up these days reminding visitors not to climb up on top of it (but you’ll see from this pic that not everyone is paying attention) or to take the stones from it.  The old tradition used to be that you would bring a stone up the mountain with you and add it to the pile, so let’s have that one back.

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Practical bits – the walk up is about 45mins and not too tough going. It is steep, and you will want to stop lots of times to “admire the view” (aka catch your breath) but it’s not too tricky.  It can get very warm with all the walking so wear layers that can be tied around your waist. Up top can be freezing so pick your day. If it is in anyway overcast or the cloud cover is low, I’d say leave it till another time, you really need the view to make it a great. Be aware that event on a warm day down the bottom it’ll be a few degrees colder up top.

You drive to the car park and take it from there. The car park is well signed as Knocknarea and there are pretty good directions on Discover Ireland, or just get to Ransboro Church and follow the signs. The whole up and down will take you anything from an hour and a bit to 2 hours depending on how much rambling you do once you’re up on the top.

To balance the virtuous feeling of accomplishment and downright healthiness get down to The Strand for one of their super pub lunches and a pint of the black stuff.  Has to be done.

sligo events

If you want to get a great online guide to what's on in Sligo then head over to Sligo Events or if Music is your bag head to Sligo Music

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