Over the years, more than a few walkers have lost their way in Union Wood. People who have started on one side have ended up on the other. And while retracing your steps has usually been the extent of any inconvenience, a new signage system has been installed to reassure walkers and remove any uncertainty.
According to Coillte’s Michael Donlon, manager of the Union Wood site, the signage was installed after feedback from the public outlined that “more signage was needed for people who would not be local to the area given the number of trails and forest roads and the distances involved. It was also pointed out that given the scale of the forest more rest areas would also be of benefit.”
And the new signage and additional seating will surely lead to a better visitor experience. New counters have been installed, and should give a detailed breakdown of visitor numbers in the coming months, enabling many groups – hikers, runners, mountain bikers and others – to make use of this fine resource.
I took the Oakwood Trail last week – one of two looped walks within the forest, which eventually leads to a timber boardwalk and the wonderful summit views at Union Rock. Parking up at the car park just off the Sligo-Ballygawley R284 road, I entered the forest before reaching a four way junction, one which has caused some confusion in the past. But the new signage pointed me towards the path I wanted, and also showed me the directions for the Union Wood Trail and for the section of the Sligo Way which also cuts through the woods.
The path is skirted by both coniferous and deciduous trees, so there’s plenty of visual interest all year round. The ground is mainly flat, unless you decide to take the upland spur towards Union Rock, and even this section shouldn’t be too much of an effort for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
At each junction, the trails are clearly marked, and, depending on which side of the forest you find yourself, directions to nearby exits near Collooney and Ballisodare are also signposted. Following the Oakwood Trail, I passed through a couple of gates, where the path narrows and the ground begins to rise. Another junction points you towards the boardwalk which brings you to the summit. And while walking in trainers during dry weather may have been fine for much of this walk, at this time of year it’s important to wear proper hiking footwear. Not only are the paths themselves covered in leaves, but the boardwalk in particular requires care. The surface of the timbers was wet from recent rainfall, and this, combined with a layer of pine needles which had been shed from the overhanging trees, meant that careful navigation of the boardwalk was needed, in particular on my descent.
Having arrived at the summit, the clouds broke and I had wonderful views from Knocknarea on one side to Knocknashee on the other, with the Ox Mountain in between. There’s a viewing platform to take in this spectacle, but don’t advance beyond the platform itself as the ground drops away suddenly on the far side and it’s a long way down. Having taken in the views, I followed the boardwalk back to the junction, where I turned right to complete the loop. Around 20 minutes later I was back at the car, having spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes or so rambling through the woods.
During the walk – which I did midweek – I met just a couple of people out walking their dogs, and while the weekends are generally busier, Union Wood is a bit of an unknown to many people, even those living in Sligo. But it’s a lovely walk, comprising as it does a number of trails, and generally the terrain is good and the ground flat, so it’s one for the family to do after Sunday lunch – or at any other time.
Michael Donlon adds that feedback has been very positive and that further improvements could also be in the pipeline. “Many local users who use the wood daily are proud of their local forest and delighted to see the continuous improvements. We are working closely with Michael Carty and the recreation team at Sligo County Council, and with Tim Roderick of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to secure additional funding and provide additional trails, particularly around the lake on the eastern side of the wood. The entire area is a Special Area of Conservation, so we want to ensure that any future development is done in sympathy with the environment.”
For more on walking in at Union Wood including directions, a map and video visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/union-wood.