As we look ahead to the New Year and the resolutions that go along with that, how about exploring some of the walks we find on our doorstep? And what better way to start than by visiting Benbulben Forest Walk at Gortarowey, which has been recently improved by the addition of new signage at each junction, not to mention a much bigger car park. For directions and lots of extra information visit the Sligo Walks website.
With the rise in popularity of many of our walks, locals and visitors alike have been walking trails like the Benbulben Forest Walk with much more frequency. With this increase comes the chance that new walkers might take a wrong turn. This walk is relatively short at 5.5km for the full loop, so at worst, you’d just have to turn back the way you came if unsure of what direction to take, especially with the recent addition of two spurs through the central section of the walk.
This new signage system should address all of these guidance needs, providing the walker with certainty of the direction they are taking, and allowing them to have sufficient time to complete the loop, especially with the short daylight hours at this time of year.
So, having parked up at the newly extended car park, turn left along the main path where a gentle incline along a gravel path brings you up towards a plateau where magnificent views of Benbulben appear on your right. Keeping to the main path will provide you with plenty of photo opportunities of one of Ireland’s most famous landmarks. You’ll also notice a new installation as part of the Yeats Trail at this point. W.B. Yeats was a big fan of Benbulben, and he wrote extensively of the mountain in both his prose and his poetry. As his life drew to a close, he also directed that he be buried ‘under bare Ben Bulben’s head’, and his grave can be found nearby at Drumcliffe Graveyard.
At the Yeats Trail installation , you’ll notice a spur to your left. Take this route if you want to complete a shortened version of the loop. The new signage informs you of what distance this trail is and also provides a map, designed by local artist and illustrator Annie West, one of many that Annie has designed for Sligo Walks.
If you continue along the main path you’ll keep the treeline to your left and Benbulben to your right. As the path dips, another spur appears to your left, which slightly shortens the route. Bearing right here, follow the main path until you reach the closest point to the mountain, which rears its head above you and which is a truly spectacular sight. Here, the path turns left towards the sea, providing wonderful views across to Mullaghmore, Streedagh and Innismurray. You’ll notice that the path now turns towards home, and the sea views stay with you for a good section of the walk, up to a kilometre or so. As you walk, you’ll notice two paths to your left, these are the other ends of the two spurs we spoke of earlier, so, unless you want to return to the car park, ignore these and keep to the main path to complete the full loop.
As you come towards the end of the tree line, the path bears right and then dips, where you finally lose the sea view. This descent brings you to a minor road (where another car park is located) where a newly constructed short section of path keeps you off the road. Turn through a timber gate to your left and the path begins to rise once again as you head for the final section of walk. Passing an ancient cashel on your right, the path continues without further break through an area of woodland until you arrive back at the starting point.
This is a beautiful trail, which offers mountain, woodland and sea views to the visitor. It does have some inclines, though nothing too steep. As farmers have commonage rights at the foot of Benbulben, do keep an eye out for the very occasional vehicles that may pass. But we do recommend this walk as one for all of the family to do together. It’s neither too long or arduous and is a good one for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Great credit to all involved in the completion of this trail. The team at Sligo County Council, led by Michael Carty and Nicholas Hartin, the Coillte team under Brian McGarraghy, the construction team at Hugh Harkin Ltd., Annie West for her singular and unique trail map, the designers at Ballast Signs and the entire Sligo Walks team for their work and endeavour.
Finally, we wish all of our readers and visitors a belated Happy Christmas, a healthy New Year, and we wish you many happy days of trail walking throughout our beautiful county.
For directions, maps and a video of Benbulben Forest Walk in Sligo visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/benbulbin-gortarowey-looped-walk/