Written by Louise Doherty
One of the great benefits of being a member of Hilltoptreks walking club, are the numerous organized hiking weekends away, both in Ireland and abroad.
One weekend that stands out for me, was our trip to Sligo for the 2019 June bank holiday weekend.
On a sunny bank holiday Saturday, we all made our way to Sligo – some drove themselves, while others opted to avail of the bus provided by Hilltoptreks – and met up in the Glasshouse Hotel. Here we were met by our guide for the weekend, Noel. Noel gave us a brief rundown of our itinerary for the days ahead, along with a little bit of history of the area we were in.
The first port of call was the beautiful Knocknarea Mountain which has the magnificent megatlithic cairn, known as Queen Maeave’s tomb on the summit. Off we set in a convoy with the Hilltoptreks bus leading the way out of Sligo town towards Strandhill. We parked up at Sligo rugby club and crossed the road to the trailhead. The trail is waymarked, and while this is a short walk of approx 2.5km, it can be quite strenuous in parts. It is a continuous climb on stoney paths, sleeper steps through woodland and out to open mountain top.
Luckily, there are plenty of benches along the route to stop, drink some water and enjoy the vista. Once through the woodland the trail opens up to a path heading straight for the Cairn at the summit. Here we circled the cairn taking in the spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape, which included a glimpse of the prominent Benbulben jutting out in all her glory. Benbulben was tomorrow’s adventure, so for now, we sat with our group, and enjoyed the summer sunshine. The descent took us back down along the same route.
Before heading back to our hotel, we went to Strandhill where some of the group were booked in for seaweed baths, while the rest enjoyed an ice-cream and took in even more of the wonderful scenery Sligo had to offer.
Today’s walk was a great way to get to know some of our fellow hikers, while most of us were part of the walking club, others came along on their own or with friends, husbands and sisters. We knew there would be great support for each other as we attempted to climb Sligo’s bulging Benbulben mountain tomorrow. Until then, we could enjoy dinner in the Glasshouse Hotel and some sensible drinks in the local bar.
We rose with excitement to a glorious sunny day, today was our day to tackle the majestic Benbulben! After a hearty breakfast in the hotel and with our packed lunches organised, we headed for the hills. The road to Luke’s bridge – the start of our trek up Benbulben – took us past Drumcliffe cemetery. This is the final resting place of W.B. Yeats. We stopped here while Noel regaled us with stories of the great poet and where we had opportunity to take photos of the famous tombstone with the inscription:
“Cast a cold Eye
On life, on Death,
Horseman pass by.”
On the road again, all chattering about our memories of Yeats from school, we could see Benbulben rise ahead of us. Except now, it was shroud in thick grey clouds. When we arrived at our starting point, the rain jackets were put on as Noel, gave us a rundown of the route we would be taking and any obstacles we should be weary of. And so, we set off on our 10km trek. Firstly, following along by a stream, then onto a gravel track and across some bog pools, until we were faced with the grassy slope straight ahead.
We climbed the steep slope zig zagging our way up and crossing over the small stream again. We were well protected by the wind and thankfully the rain held off and the clouds lifted. We took every opportunity to stop and take in the views of the coastline behind and below us. When the steep climbing ceased and we could feel the wind in our faces, we knew we were on the plateau. Now, it was just another 500m of walking over bog pools and against the wind to reach the trig point.
We stopped here for the group to congregate and take photos. The views from this point are breathtaking, but the best was yet to come. Noel, lead us off in a westerly direction towards the apex of the mountain. Here, we stood on the farthermost edge and took in the panoramic views of Sligo, all the while aware of the sheer drop that lay beneath us. We spent a little time here making the most of the uninterrupted views and the little shelter from the wind, before returning back along the same route which we came.
After the walk we traveled to Lissadell House for some well-earned afternoon tea and cake. Once we were refreshed, we were then treated to a private tour of Lissadell House, the childhood home of Constance Markievicz and one that was immortalized in poetry by W.B. Yeats:
“The light of evening, Lissadell
Great windows open to the south
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle. …”
Having reached the summit one of the iconic mountains in Sligo, and feeling a great sense of accomplishment, we celebrated with dinner and drinks in Strandhill and Sligo Town.
Our final day of the weekend, was bit more relaxed. After breakfast we drove to Slish Woods for another 10km walk. This time, on the flat along the shores of Lough Gill. The walk is well tracked out with sleepers and viewpoints laid out along the way. We stopped on the shore where we could see Yeats’ famous “Lake Isle of Innisfree”. Further on we walked along a stretch of the Sligo Camino, before heading back to our cars and making our way home.
And so, concludes another jam-packed weekend of walking, exploring, making new friends and relaxing in one of the finest counties in Ireland. Many thanks to Noel and the team at Hilltoptreks for all the support on this weekend away.