As we start the New Year, we’d like to bring some of our best walks to you. So, while so much uncertainty remains and this walk is only accessible to you if you live within 5km, here’s a great walk which won’t take long, and provides wonderful balm for the soul, and perhaps some aching muscles too!
Visit Ireland’s Highest Waterfall in Sligo
By Eddie O’Gorman
Sruth in Aghaidh an Aird, also known as The Devil’s Chimney, has become one of North Sligo’s most popular walks. Though quite short, it has some steep inclines, and provides stunning views of Ireland’s highest waterfall. When particular conditions prevail, the avalanche of water is driven by westerly winds back from whence it falls, at the cliffs’ edge; hence translating from the Gaelic “the stream against the heights.”
Occasionally the waterfall dries up in periods of drought. As the panel at the parking bays (limited-6 car spaces) at the start of the walk advises – if you can’t see it from here, it isn’t there! So, sometimes a torrent, sometimes a trickle, other times an air-blown mist, and occasionally absent; but always a spectacle.
As you head up the path from the Glencar road, you’ll find that there are donkeys in attendance somewhere about; access is by a path which runs through private property – kind permission is granted by the landowners. The walk was developed to its current state by Sligo County Council with the enthusiastic collaboration of the landowners, Fiona and Mark Magennis. This is a wonderful model of how our countryside can be opened up for the enjoyment of all.
“The development of the walk was motivated by our desire to share this wonderful resource with all and sundry and the feedback we get has been overwhelmingly positive.” says Mark.
The start of the walk is alongside Glencar Lake approximately 2k on the Sligo side from the better known Glencar Waterfall with its extensive car parking, tea shop and rest-room facilities. The location of the walk is just off the road, on the county boundary between Sligo and Leitrim.
Where the path meets with steeper gradients, steps have been provided to ease transit. Ancient holly, beech, birch and willow combine with more recent planting of spruce and pine. A display panel proclaims the words of Vietnamese poet, Thich Nhat Harh, “I asked the leaf….” A buddhist contemplation on the cycle of life – uplifting and unexpected!
Halfway to the top there is a viewing hilltop off the main path (signposted) that is accessed by a series of well-worn natural stone steps. Look north to the waterfall framed by woodland: the light reflects off the rockface over by the heights where the water tumbles in myriad channels over the edge. Southwest from here the metal flash of the lake, the low sun-rays catch on car and house; mirror and glass. I thought that this particular viewing point must have been an ancient feature but as Mark explains:
“The stone slabs were rescued from a boundary wall and they have been so carefully placed, they appear to have been there for aeons.”
Further on the trees wear overcoats of soft moss around their limbs in the humid air. A raven croaks hoarsely on the heights. A last climb, more stone steps to the final platform and seat here, close up the waterfall. Here is an idyll for contemplation and quiet inner calm.
This marks the end of the approved path and also the start of the commonage of these uplands. The rockface to the right of the waterfall makes a gargoyle face- Is that Lugh or one other of the ancient Celtic deities?
On the return, take the loop that snakes off to the right – a fairy glen. The trees close in and shut out the light. A deep cleft in the rocks, a vertical drop, is barred by a padlocked iron grid – a portal to the underworld during the month of Samhain, perhaps.
“This limestone terrain is pocked and riven with a patchwork of underground caves,” Fiona Magennis explains. “Mark did explore this particular opening but it is demanding and has dangerous drops so the Council personnel thought it best to bar admission hence the grid.”
To the North East the upper reaches of Glencar with its island crannóg and further on to Fermanagh and the North – the black rain clouds bundled up.
Ahead the jagged heights of Kings Mountain of the Dartries – a landscape shaped by glaciers-shale and scree and odd battered trees stand out on the cliffs’ edge, sentinels to an ancient past. This landscape features large in Fianna legend and lore. A panel here lists the bird life – peregrine falcon, chough, raven, the occasional visit of buzzard and eagle.
This 1.2k walk involves a 120m ascent but because of the clever layout (built-in steps on the steeper gradients/staggered seating) it is accessible and amenable to all but the very challenged in fitness and ability. It offers breath-taking views of Ireland’s tallest waterfall (492 ft/150m) and has a diverse combination of ancient woodland and modern planting. It contains some of Ireland’s oldest trees -Yews grow here that are over 1,000 years old.
This amenity is maintained by the landowners and is a model of cooperative endeavour and spirit.
The land-owners profit from the easier access to their property – Mark explains:
“The wide walkways allow us to use our quad to keep the property maintained. The network of water dykes and gullies channel the copious rainfall and occasional deluges away from our residence and farm buildings.”
The walk can be completed inside an hour – 30mins up, 15mins back- but I recommend a more leisurely ramble in order to savour all that it offers to the mindful nature enthusiast.
To find out some more about Sligo Walks that are in your 5km radius, visit SligoWalks.ie.