It’s the end of April and Spring is in the air. Trees are budding, cherry trees are in full bloom, wood anemones are peeking here and there. The air is cool….but the weather turned out a lot nicer than the forecast predicted: blue sky, warm sunshine and a few soft fluffy clouds...
These are the best conditions for a cycle, so we decided to do a lap of the lough.
I’m not a keen cyclist, but I love to go in remote and wild places, get immersed in the scenery, breathe in the earthy smells and marvel at the incredible colours of local plants and a bicycle allows you to go further and deeper in the landscape than your pair of feet!!!
So, E-bikes checked, tyres pumped up, back lights fitted for the stretch of road and small rucksack on the back with a few goodies for a snack.
Leaving the centre, we cycle approx 3 miles on the B52 towards Garrison. Normally, this stretch of road can be busy, but this morning the road is quiet. Cycling along the shoreline, we admire the deep blue stretch of water and the shimmer of the sun on the lake.
In no time, we leave the road to take the Ahavanny Road cutting across fields and bringing us from Co. Fermanagh to Co. Leitrim. You don’t notice crossing the border except for the change of road signs and the better state of the roads in the South!! During the troubles, this small country road was blocked and you had to go all the way to Belcoo or Belleek (25km away) to cross the border. In the past, a lot of cattle smuggling took place in this area as the Border runs in the middle of the lake.
From Ted Delacy memories (If Only – Historical sketches of the Belcoo Area): Smuggling cattle across the lough by boat was very hard work. First the cattle had to be caught one by one and haltered. The boats were a bit out from the shore as cattle don’t swim until they lose their feet. Men would drive them until they lost their feet and pull them by the halter till their heads were almost in the boat. You had to keep the rope tight so cattle wouldn’t jump up into the boat. When they started to swim they were easy enough pulled. They had to be haltered before they got near the shore on the other side. The men would get out of the boat and drive in to the shore. The oars man always stayed in the boat. Very few of these men could swim.
We turn south towards Glenfarne, leaving Kiltyclogher to the North-West.
Kiltyclogher is a small village steeped in history and worth a visit in itself. It is the birthplace of Sean MacDiarmada one of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Irish independence. You can get a tour of his traditional Irish cottage giving you a taste of what life was like here 100 years ago (Tours can be booked from the Kiltyclogher Heritage Centre ). In the West of the village, remnants of the Black Pig’s Dyke can be seen: these are prehistoric earthworks between the old rival Irish provinces of Ulster and Connacht which may have been constructed as defences against cattle raiding. Close to Kiltyclogher, in Rossinver is the Organic Centre, a social enterprise running workshops on organic growing and sustainable living, as well as selling a wide range of organic seeds, plants and food in their zero-waste shop.
The gorse bushes at this time of year are splashes of bright yellow among the green fields. They have a lovely coconut perfume. We take a little detour to check Corracloona Court Tomb which was built c.2000–1500 BC, in the early Bronze Age (locally known as Prince Connell's Grave) before dropping to the lake.
We follow a lovely small road with grass growing in the middle.
Fishing is signposted and leads you to a jetty with panoramic views of Upper Lough Macnean. We cycle along the lake, spotting crannogs and sheltered bays until we reach a nice rest place with a picnic table beside a peace & reconciliation sculpture. This project dates from 2000 and brought together women from Leitrim, from The Shankill in Belfast and Clondalkin in Dublin.
It’s a great place to have a snack.
From then on the forest track meanders along the lake. Slow down your pace, take in the wonderful views of the lake and admire Cuilcagh Mountain in the distance.
This area is popular with fishermen and there are a few new fishing stands installed. Lough Macnean is renowned for its coarse fishing, with pike being a firm favourite.
Situated along the boundaries of Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim is the Lough Macnean Sculpture Trail: this trail consists of 11 unique sculptures, each with its own significance to its location. The art pieces, all carried out by renowned Irish artists, are dotted along Upper and Lower Lough Macnean. On our travels we go pass 2 very nice sculptures within Glenfarne forest: Point of Contact and Ladies Rest. Glenfarne forest, home place to the Tottenham Estate, offers several walking trails ranging from ½ hour to 2 ½ hours.
At Boat Quay (now a car park with picnic tables and a boat slipway), the forest track leaves the lake, reaches the end of the Estate and we turn left towards Glenfarne's old Railway station. It is now a converted house and the old railway track is part of a green way project linking Sligo to Enniskillen. Parts of this green way have been started but the bulk of it remains at the project stage.
At the Ballroom of Romance, we join the major N16/A4 connecting Sligo to Enniskillen. The Ballroom of Romance is Ireland's most famous dance hall. In generations past, it was THE local place for young people to meet and many a story is told about the going ons at the dance!!
After a mile or so, we will be turning off to the right to avoid traffic and return to a one vehicle wide country road, running parallel to the N16. Before turning off though, we go pass Clancy’s in Glenfarne: shop, restaurant, post office. Definitely an option for a stop for coffee, ice cream or sweets (Note: we’re in Leitrim, use euros)
We finally reach Blacklion, Co Cavan, a nice little linear village with a few pubs, café and the Macnean House Restaurant run by famous chef Neven Maguire.
Across the bridge, we are back in Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Blacklion’s twin village Belcoo also boasts pubs and a restaurant, as well as a pharmacy with lots of gift ideas. (sterling pound is used here although all shops accept euros). Take a break and a stroll in the Cottage Meadow; there you can find Homage to the Lough, another sculpture part of the Lough Macnean Sculpture Trail.
In Belcoo, we leave the main A4 road to join again the B52 back to Corralea. At the corner, is St Patrick’s Holywell: Holy wells are said to hold the power to cure ailments and perform miracles: St Patrick’s Well reputedly has the cure of stomach and nervous complaints.
For the remaining stretch of the trip, I let my mind drift, full of images, smells and colours.
As Charles Dickens wrote it was one of those March (April) days "when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade".
I really enjoyed this trip. It is approx 32km, rather flat with only a few hills here and there. We took our time and spent 3 hours, stopping often for views, photos and just to connect with nature.