Tag Archives: barnes gap (tyrone)

sperrins hike part ii: mullaghbolig (442m)

The first part can be read here: Sperrins Hike Part I: Craignamaddy (385m)

Standing at the junction of the road and lane where I’d said goodbye to the Dutch couple earlier today I had a decision to make. I could walk on down the road to the car park and finish with a pretty good 11km hike for the day or I could turn right and add on another 4.5km for a great day. Looking down at my soaking wet legs and watching water bubble and run out of my boots I was tempted by box #1 and to come back another day for Mullaghbolig. My legs were tired, I was soaking wet and I had a painful blister on my right foot from walking in wet socks so I had all the excuses I needed. However, I managed to drag a “fuck it!” attitude from out of nowhere and started squelching up the lane.

The sun was back out and it was pleasantly warm walking along the gravel track with a good view South towards Gortin and Mullaghcarn prominent in the distance. The fields either side were filled with sheep busily wondering who I was and I could see the track curving around the side of the hill in the distance. After 10min my trousers were starting to dry out and I’d resigned myself to heavy wet feet until I was finished. I was enjoying myself so much that I ended up walking past the suggested access line for the top of the hill. Once I realised my mistake I backtracked the few hundred metres to the very obvious open gate at the end of a long line of conifers.

Heading into the field I spotted a faint track made by a farmer’s tractor and as it seemed to be heading in the right direction I used this as a marker. This was perfect as the tractor had worn down the majority of the heather leaving the grass a chance to grow and providing me with a spongy but easy surface to walk on.

A few hundred metres from the top I left the grass and headed in to the knee deep heather making for yet another fence line on the ridge of the hill. Turning east at the fence I made straight for the summit.

On any other day this would have been easy enough walking but my legs were dead by now and my feet felt like blocks of concrete. Multiple stops were required to get me the relatively short distance to the top. As I approached the summit Glenelly Valley opened out before me with brilliant views. In typical Sperrins fashion the summit was unmarked except for the meeting of a number of fences.

summit markers sperrins style

Reaching this summit felt like a huge achievement and I was so glad I’d decided to push on to here today. However, I was knackered and needing a rest. I pulled out the stove and made a cup of tea and enjoyed it while watching a heavy shower work its way up the valley below Mullaghcarn from Gortin. Thankfully I had time to relax and enjoy the view before the shower hit me on the way back down. Retracing my steps along the gravel track I was battered by rain and a stronger breeze than I’d felt all day. I was soaked again but caught myself with a huge grin on my face. I felt great, great to be alive, out in the elements and thankful to have the chance and ability to spend a day in the hills.

Back at the road I decided to head back on the lower Gorticashel Road which, although busier, also descends the bottom of the gulley that forms Barnes Gap. The added bonus was to miss the noisy dogs I’d met at the start!

Down through the Gap I was treated to many small waterfalls coming off the hill to my left while a bigger stream tumbled off the cliff to the right before forming a natural swampy bog at the bottom. The larch trees planted up the side of hill on the left were green with new growth and blowing in the soft breeze leaving the air fresh with their smell mixing with the wetland area across the road. It was a very peaceful and calming stroll back down to the car park.

Reaching the car park I was equally relieved to get sitting down at one of the picnic benches and to see that the Dutch couple’s car was gone. My nightmare scenario of them lost in the hills faded away.

Needing some time before changing and driving home I got the stove out for one last time. I made a well earned hot chocolate and sat enjoying it while watching the sun through the trees and listening to the breeze and birds singing. A very fine end to a hugely enjoyable walk.

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

sperrins hike part i: craignamaddy (385m)

On Wednesday the day started later than usual with a decision late the night before to head for the Sperrins but not enough time before bed to get organised. It fell to the next morning to plot the route and pack the bag. Thankfully all the info I needed was on Mountainviews.ie and I left the house just before 11am.

The starting point was the car park just below Barnes Gap (the Tyrone version) and the official starting point for the 20km Craignamaddy Loop and the 11km Vinegar Hill Loop. Although I overlapped with both these routes I was aiming for the open hill and the actual summits of Craignamaddy and Mullaghbolig. This car park is also on the International Appalachian Trail and had a nice and unusual marker post.

they didn’t stay clean and dry for long!

As I arrived a friendly Dutch couple were just setting off and cheerily called hello as they left the car park. Heading up the higher and steeper of the two road options (waymarked for Vinegar Hill) I passed through a farmyard and its collection of noisy but harmless dogs. Once I stopped and they realised I wasn’t going to rob the place they became quite friendly and were soon shoving each other to get petted. The farmer stuck his head out and we had a short chat about my plans for the day.

At the top of the road at the first junction I met the Dutch couple again looking lost. The many little roads had them confused but I soon had them sorted as they were following the same route as me for a short section. We had a very pleasant chat about their trip to Ireland and I answered some of the usual questions about living on the border. As I left them I was a bit concerned that they could get lost again but it was a good day and they seemed fit and well dressed so we wished each other well and went our separate ways.

Craignamaddy

After less than 1km I left the road for a gravelled lane with high hedges and a number of abandoned buildings. It was quite warm and with very little wind I had a very enjoyable walk as the lane wound its way around the side of Mullaghbane. I turned off this lane, over a farm gate and on to the now abandoned Central Sperrins Way. A dilapidated and overgrown stile with a very weathered marker told me I was on the right path.

This rougher track headed straight uphill and my puffing and panting was rewarded with lungfulls of air redolent with the heady aroma of sheep. The hills here are extensively grazed and it wasn’t long until I was being carefully watched by a herd. With so many sheep and the dogs at the start I was glad I’d left Rosie at home today.

The rough track eventually petered out just below the crest of the hill and I used a handy grassy ramp to skirt the high banking created by years of peat extraction to unnamed Pt 366. Looking at the bank it seemed to have been hand-cut which was impressive.

this poor sheep had a bad winter…

is it just in ireland that signs mysteriously end up pointing in the wrong direction?

At the top of the grassy ramp a fence follows the crest of the hill marking the boundary between two townlands. Ignoring the old marker and turning left, navigation became a piece of cake as the fence line runs all the way to the summit and beyond. On the way I had to skirt a couple of boggy spots and cross a few sheep fences. The first still had a stile in place before the old waymarked trail veered off to the right.

The remaining fences were a mix of easy to step over and gymnastics required to avoid unfortunate barbed wire injuries. The terrain was mostly soggy but easy following vague sheep trails through the short heather with only one short, steep scrambly section. Crossing the last fence I entered an area that hadn’t been grazed for quite a while and the heather and grass was soon up to my knees. Thankfully I only had to wade through this for less than 1km before reaching the summit. The top of this ridge is so flat I actually walked over the official high point. A quick 360 and I began to retrace my steps back along the fence towards Pt 366.

On the way over a couple of drizzly showers and one heavier passed over. The day was so warm with little to no breeze that I didn’t even bother stopping to put on a coat letting my light fleece absorb the rain and dry out quickly once it passed.

Halfway back I stopped for lunch in a small hollow. There was a rock formation that looked like it wasn’t completely natural. To my eye it could have been a collapsed tomb which would make sense as the townland boundaries would have been ancient territorial borders and stone structures would have been traditionally used for navigation and boundary markers. Today it was a pleasant spot to stop for lunch and let my imagination roam.

The return to Pt 366 was uneventful but the rain had now cleared up. Passing my earlier track up I kept following the fence line East through the same heather and grass, still following faint sheep trails and crossing so many old fences I lost count. This area seems to have been abandoned for grazing which on one hand meant the fences were all collapsed and easily stepped over but also meant the heather was deep and more difficult to walk through. It wasn’t long until my legs were soaked but once again I didn’t mind as it was so warm and pleasant.

mini habitat

where fences go to die

Eventually I reached the summit of Mullaghbane (not significant enough to register on Mountainviews.ie lists) and began descending back towards Barnes Gap. Eventually the hill became very steep but manageable with care. One small cliff had to be skirted completely. The heather here was very deep with lots of knee high juniper starting to take over. I was pleased to see quite a few Mountain Ash gaining a strong foothold also. They looked to have been grazed a bit, possibly by deer, and weathered by the recent winters but still surviving.

Reaching the bottom a large area of grass just needed crossing back on to the road. Feeling relaxed I wasn’t watching properly and ended up stepping into a hidden stream that was completely overgrown with a thick grass mat and bog. Before I knew what had happened I was in up to my unmentionables and still not feeling the bottom. Using my walking poles I was able to slowly turn and get enough purchase to drag myself back on to firmer ground. It gave me a bit of a fright but upon further investigation I was able to cross the boggy bit with a very large step and make my way up to the road.

10km completed and a decision to be made now whether to carry on to Mullaghbolig or pull the pin with boots that felt like concrete and soaking wet feet and legs…

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels