First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The prospect over Lower Lough Erne from the Cliffs of Magho is dumbfounding, a window suddenly opening across the whole slice of country where Fermanagh reaches into Donegal. The panorama swings from a chink of the Atlantic in the west, round through thirty miles towards the head of Lower Lough Erne in the east. We gazed out from the viewpoint over islands and inlets, out to the giant wedge of the far-off cliffs of Slieve League and the long pale backs of the Bluestack Mountains.
Glencreawan Lough lay becalmed in the lee of the ridge that forms the Cliffs of Magho. Just down the forest road we skirted its sister lough of Meenameen, another placid sheet of steel-blue water where fishermen hid among the reeds and cast for brown trout.
All round the loughs stood the sombre ranks of dark conifers that form Lough Navar Forest. There’s a strong but indefinable Grimm’s Fairytale frisson about the stygian blackness under such massed trees. But soon other colours began to claim attention – purple heather, crimson and acid green sphagnum moss, the silver splinters of felled trees and the pale milky green of the long beards of usnea lichen sported by the older trees – infallible sign of unpolluted air.
We passed between Lough Navar and Lough Naman – the former a gunmetal grey plate of water under low hills, the latter a little saucer of a lake half filled with reeds. The rough road turned east past the brown bog slopes of Glenasheevar, newly planted with forestry, then plunged back into the trees to wriggle its way below the outcrop of Melly’s Rock.
Hard against the little cliff we found a doorway three feet high. Crouching under the lintel, we crawled one after the other into the stone-walled interior – an ancient sweathouse, where sufferers from a range of ailments would be enclosed to bake in the heat and smoke of a peat fire before being extracted and plunged into cold water. Kill or cure, literally.
We paused on the bench outside to admire the gorgeous hilly prospect southward, then made for the homeward road by way of a circuit of beautiful Lough Achork, the loveliest forest lake of them all.
Start: Glencreawan Lough car park, Lough Navar Forest, near Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh, BT93 6AH approx. (OS NI ref H 033566)
Getting there: From Enniskillen, B81 to Derrygonnelly. Follow ‘Garrison via Glenasheevar’, then ‘Forest Drive’. Right into Lough Navar Forest (‘Scenic Drive’); follow forest road to Cliffs of Magho viewpoint. Return to junction; left to Meenameen Lough. Just before car park, bear right to reach Glencreawan Lough car park.
Walk (9 miles, easy, OSNI 1:50,000 Discoverer 17. Map downloadable at walkni.com): Return along road to Meenameen Lough car park (029561). Down steps, right along shore path (black arrow/BA). In ½ a mile, at road, left (025557, BA). After passing Lough Navar, left at junction (021544, BA). In 1¾ miles, at tarmac road, right (046545, ‘Ulster Way’/UW) along road. In ⅔ of a mile, on sharp bend, left up footpath (056544, ‘Sweathouse 450m’), following signs to sweathouse (054547). Return to road; right (retracing steps); in ⅔ of a mile, fork right (046545, BA). In ¾ of a mile detour left (044556) for circuit of Lough Achork. Back to road, left; at top of rise, fork left (047560, BA) for 1½ miles to car park.
Accommodation: Lough Erne Resort, Belleek Rd, Enniskillen BT93 7ED (028-6632-3230, lougherneresort.com) – luxury golf hotel, stunning lake views.
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).