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2010-05 The Sligo Way

a column written by James for the Sligo Weekender

 
Wherever I travel across this vast globe, I present my Sligo pedigree at all times with pride.

For the years I have had the privilege of writing for the Weekender I have endeavoured to escort my readers on journeys to the popular, and at times less frequented beauty-spots in my home county  magnificent Streedagh, regal Benbulben, magical  Mullaghmore, lonesome Lislary, neolithic Deer Park, inspirational Inishmurray, soulful Dunmoran, or enchanting Glencar.

But I have yet to do it - The Sligo Way.

The Sligo Way is 74km long (approx 46 miles) and stretches from that South Sligo gem of Lough Talt  all the way to the seat of the ORourkes  the Kings of Breifne  in Dromahair. The route is divided into seven segments, each in itself a considerable hike, lasting anywhere from three to five hours. Though I have sampled every section of the Sligo Way, I have yet to complete it as a whole.
Lough Talt, near the Sligo-Mayo border, on the road between Tubbercurry and Bonniconlon is one of Sligos best kept secrets, and the subject of a previous column. Brimming with brown trout, Lough Talt still remains relatively unspoiled and undiscovered. From here the SligoWay leads the explorer about three hours coastwards to the tranquil, wild, remote, and somewhat barren Lough Easkey. Easkey is an area steeped in history and mythology  everywhere lie reminders of Irelands hard times. Easkeys landscape offers acres upon acres of peat, moor and marshland, famine walls, famine cottages, remnants of a Hunting Lodge abandoned by Landed Gentry, and one of Irelands signature Mass Rocks. With the way the Church is operating these days, perhaps a revival of Mass Rocks set in the Cathedral of Creation is the way forward., weather-permitting of course.

The second segment of the Sligo Way leads the walker from the shores of Lough Easkey to Templeboy  about a 4½ hour saunter. En route are splendid views across Sligo Bay to Benbulben, to Slieve League on Donegal Bay, and to the west Nephin and Mayo.

From Templeboy the third segment wends its way through mountain bothríns into Slieve Gamh towards the Ladies Brae, and ought to take around three hours. At the foot of Knockalongy, Lough Aghree is perhaps Irelands newest lake, formed by an earthquake in 1490.

From the awe-inspiring Ladies Brae, it is about a three-hour walk to Coolaney which constitutes the fourth segment of the Sligo Way. Forestry tracks, bog roads and a riverside walk by the Owenboy (later Owenbeg) lead into the village of  Coolaney (a former Tidy Town Winner). This whole area of South Sligo boasts several impressive stately homes.

Quiet back roads more or less tracking the Owenbeg, then Owenmore, lead the walker on the fifth section of the Sligo Way towards that familiar lofty spire in Collooney - another 3 or 3½ hour walk.

From Collooney to Slish Wood is perhaps the lengthiest segment of the Sligo Way, and could take up to 5 hours to complete. Sights en route include the old disused railway line, Ballygawley Lake with its crannóg, Union Rock and Union Wood, and if youre lucky some fallow deer. En route, Lough Lumman is just one of many little mountain lakes nestled in the gneiss Ox Mountains - a heathery haven with deep dark peaty water. If you want to escape bustling city life for a few hours, might I highly recommend a few hours by the bonny bonny banks of Lough Lumman.

The last section of the Sligo Way begins where dips the rocky highland of Sleuth Wood to the lake, and follows through Sleuth or Slish Wood along the shores of Lough Gill to the famed Isle of Inishfree. From there, the final miles weave through scenes of my childhood in Killerry, and Friarstown, to Creevylea Abbey (former Franciscan Friary which sadly only lasted 28 years after its construction in the 16th Century), on to picturesque Dromahair. The final section also takes in or around three hours.

All in all the Sligo Way should take about 25 hours of constant walking. So yes, unless you are stark-raving mad and want to find your way by torch, you will split it up into segments&perhaps two if youre feeling ultra fit and motivated, or more likely smaller segments.

Hopefully it goes without saying that at all times  respect farmland and the environment.