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2005-07-12 Tackling the Ladies Brae and the Ox

On a clear day, the panoramic view from the Ladies Brae and Knockalongy across Sligo Bay is one of the finest views in the county.

 

Turn left off the Ballina road in Beltra, past Collerys and Rafters, in the direction of Dromard RC Church. Alternatively, hang a left at Skreen. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to approach it from the southern side of the Ox range. Under the railway bridge on the old Ballisodare/Collooney road, we crossed the humpbacked bridge near the Teeling Monument, and immediately turned right for Coolaney.

Part of this road overlaps with the 225 km-long "Tour d'Humbert", which traces the route General Humbert and his French forces took when they came to help out in 1798. This part of Sligo also seems to have a rich concentration of stately homes, as well as being rich in ancient history and landscape. The picturesque and tranquil village of Coolaney on the Owenbeg River is, not surprisingly, a past-winner of the `Tidy Towns Competition'.

 

An attractive 17th century corn-mill and stone bridge, a peaceful river-walk, and the disused Sligo/Mayo railway line are just some of Coolaney's dreamy attractions. My Dad and I began our little afternoon trip by calling in to the ever-welcoming Mountain Inn bar, shop and restaurant run by the helpful Lipsett Family. www.mountaininn.net. Mary Lipsett served us a first-class, wholesome vegetable soup and a hearty freshly-made sandwich. Liam Lipsett kindly presented me with a copy of the "Sligo Way Spur Walks" (produced by the Sligo Leader Partnership some time ago), in order to whet my appetite for further rambles.

 

If you don't feel up to walking the entire `Sligo Way' from Lough Talt to Dromahair (c.73km), there are a variety of more manageable shorter segments possible along the way, down quiet country lanes, through forest tracks and mountains. The `Spur Walks' are, for the most part, circuits.

 

As always when walking in the countryside - respect the farmland and rural environment, always adhere to fire safety regulations, leave gates as you find them, don't litter for God's sake, and keep dogs `at heel' or on a lead if anywhere near sheep. Having received a warm welcome at the Mountain Inn, we set off back in the direction of Collooney, taking the sign-posted turn for "The Ox Mountains". Mary Lipsett had warned us that the road would deteriorate as it ascended into the range - Mary was right.

 

This ever-narrowing road through the Ox's heart, bordered by blackthorn and whitethorn, passes near the Moy River source, and is a route largely unexploited by tourists and locals alike. If Sligo County Council were to consider resurfacing this breathtakingly scenic drive , I believe Sligo would have its own version of the Wicklow Gap, and the tourist potential of this part of our county could be more fully developed.

 

We stopped to take a forestry walk on the slopes of Harte's Mountain. Perfect moss banks, in knitted reds and greens, appeared hand-cultivated, a temporarily-misplaced lamb perched himself precariously on a shiny gneiss outcrop bleating pathetically for his Mum, while tall elegant conifers shaded us from the Sliabh Gamh breeze. Nearby, Hungry Rock may have got its name from the number of people who died along these roads during Famine years. It is said that if you throw a stone at the Rock, you will never again know hunger. It doesn't work - trust me. The Hawk's Well (Tobar Tullaghan) near the oddly-shaped Hawk's Rock, was made famous by the Yeats play and later by our town's theatre. Gamh, the servant of an ancient invader, was beheaded, and his head was cast into the Hawk's Well. For that reason, it is said the well's waters change at times from bitter to salty to sweet.

 

Now, that I can't prove as yet, but I would hesitate a guess that if the taste of water changes in this day and age, there is more likely a more logical and less palatable reason. The mountains were called Sliabh Gamh after the unfortunate servant. `Gamh' sounded similar to the Irish for `Ox' (`damh') - hence the newer anglicised name. Strangely enough the Irish for calf is `gamhain'! By simply deciding to approach the awesome Ladies Brae from a different angle that day (Cue schoolboy snigger), my appetite for getting to know every acre of our beautiful county has been whetted even further.