By Imelda McCarron
Raised in West Tyrone meant a lot of our Sunday drives were spent in the magnificent Donegal, and having lived in Portstewart for nearly 10 years I had ample time to explore the wonders of the North Coast. But alas, there were many a beauty spot unbeknownst to me a lot closer to home!
Throughout Fermanagh there is a plethora of nooks and crannies: still water lakes, view points and short lakeside walks that provide enchanted hidden landscapes that we so often miss as we rally to our next task in hand.
While here I have highlighted my top 5 walks in Fermanagh, I implore you to take the time to drive round Fermanagh and follow every brown sign you see. I can guarantee you they will bring you to some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track sites you could imagine for a ‘tourist site’, but they also hold key to some of the most random and magical wee sites NI might offer!
So my top 5 walks in Fermanagh…this was actually really difficult to pick! When I started thinking about it I had my professional hat on…is it a ‘quality walk’, does it have all the facilities people would expect etc? But then I decided I would pick the ones that meant most to me, just ‘Imelda’ rather than ‘Imelda the Countryside Recreation Officer’!
Magho Cliffs (Lough Navar Forest)
There are two ways to access the Magho Cliff Walk, depending if you want to start at the bottom or at the top. My personal preference is to follow the scenic drive through Lough Navar. As you approach the end of the drive, due to the incline in the road and corridor of conifer trees on either side it feels quite closed. Then, all of a sudden at the brow of the hill, the trees fall away and the views just appear before you.
Breath-taking panoramic vistas reaching as far as the eye can see out across Fermanagh and Donegal. This offers the best views in the county by far! The cliff walk (all 370 steps!) is steep, but if you persevere to the bottom and cross the main road you can catch your breath loughside and grab a spot of lunch on one of the jetties before ascending back up the steps again…bring brownies, you’ll have earned them!
Made infamous on social media with the addition of the boardwalk, now dubbed as Fermanagh’s ‘Staircase to Heaven’, Cuilcagh Mountain is the highest point in Fermanagh. I know the boardwalk is divisive – people either love it or hate it. But it was only ever put in place to protect the blanket bog underfoot and in fairness it is doing its job.
No-one ever expected it to become the attraction that it has and looking on the positive side, it has got a lot more people out walking than before, brought a lot more visitors to the Fermanagh area, and has massively improved Fermanagh’s presence on social media. This is all good, right?! And credit where credit is due – the views over the Fermanagh landscape from the boardwalk are amazing…just look it up on Instagram!
Castle Archdale is one that is true to my heart. It is my go-to place. Fancy a run? Want to go for a nice serene walk by the water? Want to take the nieces out for a few hours? Castle Archdale provides a safe space for all of the above. Often when I’m needing a bit of recuperation I crave to be near the water and I guess this is why I love Castle Archdale. It’s only a 20-minute drive from home and on those days where time doesn’t allow a visit to the coast, Castle Archdale provides the perfect antidote to the ickiness that life sometimes throws our way!
There is a labyrinth of trails throughout, so depending on how much company you want along the way, you can pick your route accordingly. It offers forests, big old ancient trees, and wildflowers awash with bluebells and wild garlic in spring, as well as jovial song birds and calming water. What’s not to love?!
Tip: Don’t overlook the trails at ‘old Castle Archdale’ – they are often forgotten but yet offer some of the nicer walks throughout the park. And when you leave ‘old’ Castle Archdale follow the road for the scenic route to Kesh. The sights over Lough Erne at the viewpoint are something to behold!
Legacurragh Valley Trail (Cuilcagh Way)
This trail weaves through Florence Court Forest where it runs alongside a stream, crossing very cute little wooden bridges suitable for any fairy tale! It opens out on to the most charismatic limestone farmland before leading to open countryside and finishing with a steep but manageable climb to Gortmaconnell viewpoint.
I think what I love most about this walk is that real, trademark Fermanagh limestone farmland. It’s full of stony outcrops and a lovely light, short grass which allows the wildflowers to grow beautifully when in season. This in turn give home to bountiful skylarks and butterflies! Magical on a warm summer’s day trekking through it – and you might even be lucky enough to catch sight of one of the feral goats enroute.
It’s wild enough to provide walkers with that remote paradise we so often seek out, but manageable for the not so seasoned walkers amongst us!
Fun fact…when you’re walking through the Legacurragh dry valley you can see sea coral colonies still fossilised in the stone that you walk upon. This is because that part of the walk used to be a river valley but it’s dry now as the water has sunken into the limestone below! #nerdalert!!
Topped Mountain is technically only a hill as it stands at 277m but for me, it’s one of the most under-rated walks in Fermanagh. The walk is quite short but the sharp climb definitely burns the legs and the lungs! But the views at the top are well worth it – The Sperrins, Clogher Valley and all of Fermanagh lie before you in a patchwork of green so synonymous with the ‘green Isle’. What I love most about this walk is that you rarely meet anyone else up there. So if you want a good walk, amazing views and some peace and quiet to sit and take it all in, this is the one for you!
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