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2002-12-04 Lough Talt is the best kept secret

Nestled in the nice gneiss Ox mountains, not far from Bonniconlon, half-way between Tubbercurry and Ballina, is one of Sligo's best-kept secrets -Lough Talt.

 

This picturesque mountain lake (does it qualify as a corrie?) is about a 40 minute drive from Sligo town, and its quiet unspoiled beauty resembles parts of the Scottish highlands, though on a smaller scale. This is one of those rare unspoiled areas in our land, underrated and somewhat undiscovered. Whether it be a walk along the lakeside, or up the back road to Easkey, or a more adventurous hillwalk, your route will offer commanding views in all directions - so bring a camera!

Should you need to know more about the locality, make your way to The Lough Talt Inn on the shores of the lake where the affable Mrs Haran will be only too delighted to engage in helpful discourse. Josephine Haran has been there all her life - her family have been there for four generations - so her knowledge of the area is second to none.

She remembers cycling to Ballina during the war, being snowbound in the Great snow of 1947, her boats being reduced to matchsticks in Hurricane Debbie in the 60s, and she has endless intriguing stories such as the robber who used a local cave as his hideaway. She has seen the flora and fauna change over the years.

Once there was the biggest colony of seagulls in the West of Ireland near the lake, but now mallard, heron and even the odd kingfisher have moved in.

There is a wealth of wild flowers such as ferns and orchids, though Mrs Harans mother was better at remembering their names than her daughter. There is also a profusion of the irritating South Sligo midge, so pack that repellent!

The changing seasons transform the lake, and the early morning sun reveals each mountain crevice in detail.

Students from the Lapidiary Society frequent the area and many return to further their studies of some of the semi-precious stones that have been found. Mrs Haran can hire you a boat (and lifejackets) for very reasonable rates, or sell you flies, as well as offering inside information on where to fish (she knows the whereabouts of every fish in that lake) and, more importantly, which shallows to avoid. A letter from a relation in the USA in the 1870s reveals that the Harans have had boats on the lake since the mid-19th century at least. Real Irish brown trout lurk in abundance in Talt though they rarely weigh in much over 1lb (Mrs Haran has seen two-pounders). Anything less than 1/2 lb ought to be thrown back to fight another day. The most striking part of the lake for me is in the shade of the mountain on the far side of the lake, but we found that the trout there had whiter flesh when cooked.

The better quality fish seemed more plentiful along the road shore, and there is no tastier trout than a pink-fleshed Lough Talt trout, fried crisp in the pan, or grilled if you are feeling conscious of your fat-intake!

This scenic spot is the ideal location for children who express an interest in the art of fishing, whether they want to spin with a Mepps (or similar bait), or cast flies with a bubble and spinning rod, or even master the basics of fly-fishing. The fisherperson is more or less guaranteed to hook several feisty and edible trout. As my family will vouch, this is the only place in Sligo I have ever had the patience to fish, and when that short-lived patience expired, all those years ago, I would retire to Mrs Harans kid-friendly pub for a few games of table football!

If you are feeling adventurous, a spectacular hill-walk will take you up to one of the other lakes. Lough Fossa is charming, and the trout there can weigh anything up to 3lbs.

Lough Talt is a mountain lake and so its water is ice-cold. If youre feeling fearless, it is a lovely place to take the plunge, but never swim alone as it is deep. I expect a whole variety of water-sports would be practicable on the lake, but please, nothing that might disturb the tranquility of this gem of South Sligo.