Hazelwood – a national forest on our doorstep

As we look for pleasant walks (with a welcome natural canopy to protect us from the elements) at this time of year, look no further than the newly improved and extended Hazelwood Forest Walk.

Improved – certainly, following extensive work by Coillte led by horticulturalist Hedda Dick, whose team has done wonderful work in cutting back the rhododendron that was having a stifling effect on growth of native species in the centre of the forest. Extended too – now into a full 4.2km looped trail that currently starts and ends at Half Moon Bay, although a new car park is currently being developed further out near the main road.

Half Moon Bay, Hazelwood, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

Being a National Forest, according to the Coillte website, means that we are talking about a place of great natural beauty and biodiversity, and Hazelwood ticks these boxes and more. From stunning views over Lough Gill to beautiful mature native trees, not to mention the fact that it is a real haven of peace just minutes from the centre of Sligo, Hazelwood is definitely one of our most popular walks at all times of the year.

It’s also one of 14 locations currently being promoted as part of the new Yeats Trail, a great idea which highlights some of the places that our national poet drew inspiration from in his poetry. Sligo Walks will have a more in-depth article on the Yeats Trail in the coming weeks, but keep an eye out for the art installation located beside the water, with accompanying seating to take in the views over the lake.

The cave folly at Hazelwood Forest, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

As we continue to go through this unsettled spell of weather, Hazelwood offers some protection from the elements, both wind and rain. While you’ll need your rain gear, at least you have some peace of mind that you’ll not be as exposed to the elements as you might be, for example, on some of our beach walks.

The most recent day that Sligo Walks visited, during last week’s Mid Term Break, the car park was busy mid-afternoon, with lots of families taking advantage of the improvement in the weather towards the latter stages of the week. The woods are in full Autumnal bloom, with many of the deciduous trees losing their foliage and the pathways scattered with red and orange leaves, creating a colourful if slippery terrain.

Beautiful woodland looped trail at Hazelwood, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

Therefore, as with any of the walks, it’s important that proper footwear is worn, and while you might get away easily enough with a pair of runners in Summer, that’s not advisable at this time of year and walking boots are in order to get around safely.

The walk has always had a couple of short looped trails, but now a new extension has been added, greatly enhancing the experience. When starting out from the car park and keeping to the shoreline of the lake, if you didn’t take the final available turn to the right, you’d come to a dead end near an old boathouse. This has recently been opened up, and the trail continues along the back of Hazelwood House – now a whiskey distillery – along what was probably a servants entrance in the old days. This is a lovely addition and introduces views of where Lough Gill begins to narrow into the Garavogue River, heading up towards Doorly Park and the Back Avenue, which you can just about make out on the opposite bank. It’s also worthwhile taking a short left hand turn down to the lakeshore where the remains of an unusual building lie. This was an old windmill, which was used to draw water from the lake for the main house. Nowadays all that remains is the base, but there are photos online – visit the Sligo Heritage and History page on Facebook – of the original structure before it became disused and went to ruin.

New extension to trail at Hazelwood, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

Continuing along the new path, you eventually come to a timber gate to your right. Passing through this brings you to the last section of the trail, where you meet the Hazelwood road. Depending on where you’ve left your car, you’ve either completed your walk, or head back across the road and into the forest to reach the lakeside car park.

All told, this is a lovely walk, suitable for all members of the family and for anyone with even a basic level of fitness. We have been asked whether it’s wheelchair accessible. The simple answer is that it is – in sections, at least. Some of the path contains a thicker grade of gravel that might be tricky to get through, so it’s advisable to check this out with a friend first. Certainly the gradient isn’t much to worry about, and the walk is relatively short, so if you do decide that you’ve reached terrain that isn’t suitable, it shouldn’t take too long to cut back the way you’ve come.

Entrance to Hazelwood Forest, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

Well done to Coillte and to Sligo County Council for the recent work on this walk, in particular to the ecology team who have really made a difference in opening up the central canopy of the forest. If you haven’t been recently, then take a ramble through Hazelwood, you won’t be disappointed.

Visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/hazelwood/ for details, directions and guide photos or pick up a copy of the Sligo Walking Guide at the tourist office at the top of O’Connell Street.