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By Alannah Morrow
When I was asked to write about a current walk I have completed I couldn’t help but laugh slightly. I am not an experienced hiker, in fact it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I completed by first hike. I have always enjoyed walking and loved the idea of being outdoors, but to say I haven’t been very pro-active about it is to say the least! I work as a History teacher so usually when it comes to the weekend I’m exhausted and a hike is the last thing on my mind.
However, over the past few months I made the decision that I wanted to get out more and see all of the stunning landscapes that are on my doorstep. During the Easter holidays I was in County Fermanagh for three days. We decided that whilst there we could conquer Cuilcagh Mountain, also known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
The start of the walk is a few miles down from the Marble Arch Caves. You can park in their car park, or for £5 you can park at the very start of the walk and save yourselves an extra mile of walking. The walk begins along a farmland gravel path for roughly 5.8km. Along this section of the walk you are completely surrounded by blanket bog and boulder fields. The views even at this stage are stunning. There are no houses, no eyesores, no traffic, everything is so peaceful. Those stereotypical ideas of what rural Ireland looks like, these views were exactly that. As you walk along the path you can see some old ruins of houses from years gone by. Being a history teacher and lover of local history, I researched the area afterwards and apparently some of those ruins are the remains of old famine houses. To be walking along an isolated wilderness that was once a thriving rural community was fascinating. To see the remains of these communities along the walk was somewhat haunting. Walking along the 5.8km of gravel path can be hard at certain points. The path is winds around quite a lot and steep inclines are often around each corner leaving you slightly out of breath depending on fitness levels. Mine were debateable! However, it is manageable and short breaks will help you push on.
At the end of the 5.8km gravel walk the infamous wood boardwalk begins. Having stopped for a water break and a snack we embarked on the last leg of the walk. The boardwalk was recently put in as a conservation purpose to protect the bog and has become one the main attraction points of the area. The whole length of the board walk is roughly 1.6km. For me this was the hardest and most exciting part! The climb up the mountain truly begins at the boardwalk. To help get you up to the top, there are wooden steps placed up the side of the mountain. Ascending the mountain is not for the faint hearted, if you are genuinely scared of heights this bit might not be for you. Standing at 665 metres high the climb up the steps is breath taking in more way than one! A tough and slightly terrifying walk up is most definitely worth it to be standing on the summit of the highest mountain in County Fermanagh. When at the top you get a real sense of awe. Almost like your brain can’t process that the views before you are actually real. Luckily, there is a small seating area at the top for you take in these views and get your breath back. However, it must be noted that the trail abruptly ends here. You are not free to wander along the mountain top due to conservation reasons previously mentioned, instead there is a small closed off area you can sit in.
The climb up Cuilcagh Mountain is something that everybody should do. The whole walk is roughly a 14km round trip. I would say to complete it you would need to have walked a little bit beforehand or at least be pretty active. The constant incline along with the steep walk up hundreds of steps does test the fitness levels. However, do not let you put this off if you feel like you couldn’t do it. The gravel path before the boardwalk is a manageable walk and like previously mentioned is full of stunning scenery. We came across families with small children who walked just to the beginning of the board walk, so if you have children who like the outdoors this is a perfect location to take them!
I would also suggest going earlier in the day. The boardwalk only allows you to walk two abreast, the steps you would need to climb in single file and the summit area holds only a few people. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be climbing in long line behind lots of people or have to stand on the steps if there was no room at the top! Those are all personal preferences obviously, however small bits of information that I feel are worth noting.
Cuilcagh Mountain is a breathtakingly beautiful area. A rich history surrounded by stunning scenery is all you need for a perfect day out. If you are considering making the journey to it please do you will not regret it. It was my first ‘proper’ hike and it has encouraged me to continue on more hikes throughout the next few months!
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