Let’s take a road trip around Cuilcagh, the highest point in County Fermanagh & County Cavan. At 666m high, the mountain is in the heart of the Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark.
Starting from Corralea cottages, we head towards Belcoo & Blacklion, crossing over the river which marks the border between county Fermanagh in Northern-Ireland and County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland. Belcoo & Blacklion are twin villages on each side of the border lying between Upper Lough Macnean and Lower Lough Macnean.
Blacklion boasts the renowned Macnean House Restaurant run by famous chef Nevin Maguire, as well as a tourist information shop based in the old Market House.
The Bazaar Blacklion is a lovely cosy coffee shop with delicious home baked cakes, scones and sweet treats. It has an eclectic collection of little gifts: crystals, Agate keyrings, Smudge sticks, artwork from local artists etc... It opens from Wed-Sunday.
At the end of the village, after the petrol station, veer to the left leaving the main busy Sligo road and taking the R206. After about 500m, a signpost on the left indicates The Cavan Burren Park. It is a small and steep road to climb the hill but the reward at the top is well worth it: the views over the two loughs is breathtaking. On a clear day you can see as far as Donegal and Sligo. There is a small carpark with a picnic table just round the corner, so you can take your time to enjoy the views.
From then on the road is fairly flat across the bog until you reach the entrance to the Cavan Burren Park on the left.
The Cavan Burren Park has over 10km of trails and features some impressive neolithic tombs. It is so remote and yet so close. It has always been one of my favourite places to go in Spring or Winter. The geopark have developed it with walkways, including one multi-accessible trail and an interpretive centre. It is a great spot for children, it is free and the interpretive centre is accessible at all times. Some fantastic views over Fermanagh, Leitrim and Sligo.
On leaving the Burren Park we turn left towards Moneygashel. A few hundred metres further Moneygashel Fort is signposted. Well worth a stop.
Follow that direction and continue until you reach a crossroad. Turn left in the R206 and follow the sign for “Shannon Pot”.
The Shannon Pot is the source of the River Shannon although dye tracing in the extensive Shannon cave system has shown sinks in Fermanagh as the highest points in the pot catchment area. The River Shannon is approx 360km long and the longest river in Ireland.
According to legend, the Shannon is named after Sionnan, who was the granddaughter of Lir, the Celtic God of the Sea. She came to this spot to eat the Salmon of Knowledge. However the Salmon in a fit of rage caused the pool to overflow. Sionnan was drawn down into the bottom of the river and was never seen again. The waters began to flow over the land, forming the River Shannon.
There is a short walk to the pool and a lovely playground for children beside the carpark. Leaving the Shannon Pot you continue on the R206 towards Glangevlin (about 10km). The road is quiet and curves round the back of Cuilcagh Mountain. It offers lovely views of Bellavalley Gap.
A few kilometres after Glangevlin, past a corner, don’t miss the entrance to “Into the Wild” on the left. Nestled in the foothills of Cuilcagh mountain Into the Wild is a food trailer specialising in vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food using seasonal, organic and homegrown produce. It offers soup, open sandwiches on sourdough bread, homemade cakes, fairtrade coffee and herbal teas. The perfect place for a spot of lunch after your morning strolls. It opens Saturdays & Sundays 10am-5pm.
Back in the car (or the bike!) follow the R206 through Bellavalley Gap at the back of Cuilcagh Mountain. You will pass the 'Cuilcagh Southside Walking Path' leading to Cuilcagh Mountain from the Cavan side. The Cuilcagh Boardwalk (or Stairway to Heaven) is starting from the other side of the Mountain in County Fermanagh.
Along the road, stop at the Altacullion Scenic viewpoint and head towards Swanlinbar and the Tullydermott Falls.
All along the way, derelict cottages & remnants of “lazy beds” (these traditional ridges in the fields that helped crops grow in poor soil) are a stark reminder of the farming communities of the past.
Nowadays you can still see the stacks of traditionally hand-cut turf dotting the fields on either side of the river. Turf is still cut in this area and used for burning in stoves.
In Swanlinbar we turn left onto the N87 towards Enniskillen. We soon cross the border back in to Fermanagh and after a few kilometres, turn left towards Florencecourt / Marble Arch Caves, in doing so closing the circle around Cuilcagh Mountain.
Here you can opt to visit Florencecourt House, take a stroll in Florencecourt Gardens or hire bikes at the visitor’s centre to explore the vast forest & gardens.
Alternatively you can take a short detour to Marble Arch Caves, pass the entrance to the Cuilcagh Boardwalk : Cuilcagh Mountain Park contains one of the most impressive example of intact bogland in Western Europe. Park at the caves to visit the enchanting subterranean world of Marble Arch with its vertical shafts and big chambers or explore the luscious woodland and waterfalls of Cladagh Glen.
On your way back, you will pass Hanging Rock, a 50m limestone cliff towering over Lower Lough Macnean. The Nature Reserve at the base of the cliff was historically home to eagles, hawks and jackdaws.
A few more kilometres and you are back at Corralea.
I enjoyed this road trip around Cuilcagh Mountain... ideal for a day full of outdoor activities, a cultural adventure, a botanic experience or simply a nice circular drive around Ireland’s only cross-border Mountain top.
Photos credit to Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark, Discover Northern Ireland, Fermanagh Lakelands.