•music by Aglow Hollow.
On October 30th when the clocks were wound back to signal the start of shorter winter days, I wasn’t expecting the summery phrase “Grand day isn’t it?!” uttered with such frequency! Luckily, the unaccustomed mild winter has increased such positive weather musings and in turn, cycle trips in the countryside. It’s hard to beat a brisk cycle along twisting rural boreens in unseasonal winter sunshine.
We are lucky to be living in a part of Ireland where little country roads and boreens encourage you to explore. Roads that tease you of what’s ahead, with sly concealing curves and enshrouding hills, that entice and pull you on until your legs burn!
Sligo in the north west of Ireland has plenty of wandering country roads. It’s easy to connect them to form loops. Cyclists love looking for loops on a map. Everything is new until you arrive back at the start again! (Check out our other post on local loops in Sligo and Connemara, Galway.)
So continuing our series of local loops, one day cycle trips in Ireland, let us take you to Gleniff, a valley in north County Sligo.
The Horseshoe is about 20km from Sligo town, 20km from Bundoran and 60km from Enniskillen, the three biggest urban centres in the region. It’s the shortest loop we’ve covered at roughly 10km and has a gradual ascent for about a kilometre on both sides approaching the valley. It’s ideal for a little family cycle or a day hike!
Gleniff Barytes Mills
If you are arriving by car you can park at the Gleniff Mill. The mill was once used to process barytes, a mineral ore, that was mined from the mountains encircling the valley. Traces of the mines located high up the mountain cliffs are still visible along with old tramway tracks. The mill has been restored as a public amenity with picnic benches, forest trails and wooden sculptures.
The Magic Road!
The mountains of Tieve Baun, Truskmore and Benwhisken rise to the back of the valley and defiantly face the nearby Atlantic. Ochre bracken, windswept hawthorn trees, and nonchalant sheep scattered on the mountain slopes. Luckily, for your convenience, ‘the little people’ have cast their magic upon a section of the loop (about half a km from the mill) and created a magic road! If you stop your car, it will roll uphill as if being pulled into the valley by a mysterious force! We tried it on the bikes but it didn’t quite have the same effect!
Diarmud and Grainne’s Cave.
The area was once dotted with little cottages where stories of legends, told over open turf fires, stoked the imagination of those inside. One particular tale that mirrors the tragedy and romance often pinned on the Irish psyche is that of Diarmud and Grainne. As legend goes a cave high up the mountain was the last resting place of Diarmud, who died of wounds inflicted by the Wild Boar of Benbulben. The great boar was coaxed into cornering and attacking Diarmud by Grainne’s jealous admirer Fionn MacCool. A distraught Grainne begged Fionn to use his magical powers to save Diarmud’d fading life but Fionn refused and watched his former friend die. Broken hearted she took her own life and her last view was that of Gleniff, through the mouth of the cave. The swirling winds continue to keen the tragic last whispers of the doomed lovers throughout the valley.
The cave is 400 metres from the old ruins of the school house, which doesn’t evoke much fear until you are facing it. Most of the ascent is vertical! We managed to get within reach of a dangling rope that’s in place to help you up the last 25 metres to the cave. Unable to trust a rope in a valley of magic roads and mythical grieving ghosts, we made our excuses and headed back down to the bikes!
The road heading into the valley.
Remains of the old barytes mill and it’s buildings.
The forest trails around the Gleniff bartyes mills.
Truskmore mountain up ahead.
The old school house under Grainne and Diarmud’s Cave, the highest cave in Ireland.