First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It can be a wet old place, County Derry, after a month of good solid rain. Down in the glen of the Altkeeran River below Carntogher mountain, all was sedgy. But the old coach road along the glen gave firm footing through the turf. Streams ran orange from the iron minerals of the mountain, up whose green flank Jane and I went climbing.
Pink conquistador helmets of lousewort clashed with virulent red sphagnum in the banks of the tumbled wall we were following. It lifted us to the shoulder of the mountain, and a track where we met two walkers from a local townland. They pointed out Slieve Gallion ten miles to the south (‘a Derry mountain, despite what you might hear’) with great precision and pride. ‘I’ve walked this path since I was a boy,’ said one, ‘and by God I will do it till the day that I die!’
Up at the Snout of the Cairn, Shane’s Leaps lay just off the path – three innocuous-looking rocks. Did Shane ‘Crossagh’ O’Mullan, the light-footed outlaw with the scarred face whom all the ladies sighed for, once escape the lumbering English soldiery up here? So old tales say. At the Emigrants’ Cairn just beyond the Leaps we found a heart-stopping view to the hills of Donegal, the last prospect of their native land that those walking over the mountains to the ships in Lough Foyle would carry with them to ‘far Amerikay’.
Back across the slopes of Carntogher we went, following the boggiest of upland tracks, half peat and half puddle, past black heaps of iron-mining spoil to the top of the ridge and another most tremendous westward view, across the silver fishtail of Lough Foyle, on beyond the pale humps of Barnesmore and the Blue Stacks to the jagged spine of Errigal out at the edge of sight in western Donegal. Between Errigal and Mourne there cannot be fewer than a hundred miles. All Northern Ireland lay spread out for us, and we lingered long over this extraordinary feast.
On the way down we passed a Bronze Age cist grave. There was something about the little dark hole in the bank, slab-lined and secretive, that simply invited a tall and wild tale. But no-one was there to tell it to us today.
Start & finish: Tullykeeran Bridge, near Maghera (OSNI ref C 819045).
Getting there: Ulsterb us (www.nirailways.co.uk) to Maghera (3 miles) or Swatragh (3½ miles). Road: A29 (Coleraine-Maghera); minor roads to parking place by ruined cottage at Tullykeeran Bridge
Walk 5½ miles, moderate grade, OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 8): (red trail): Follow road. 100 m beyond 3rd bridge, left over stile by gatepost (red/blue arrows); follow track for ½ a mile into Altkeeran Glen (805407 approx). Right up path by tumbledown wall (red/blue arrows). In 3/4 of a mile, stony track crosses path (800058 approx); left (red arrow) to Emigrants’ Cairn and Shane’s Leaps (796058).
Return for 50 yards; left at post (red arrow) along grassy track to marker post on saddle of ground; walk 400 yards left here to ridge viewpoint over Lough Foyle and Donegal hills; return to marker post. Continue downhill along track for 2 miles, past cist grave (824061), through gates, down to road (823055). Right (red arrow) for 2 miles to car park.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk.
Downloadable map/instructions at
http://www.walkni.com/d/walks/319/Carntogher_History_Trail.pdf. Trail map at car park.
Lunch: Rafters Bar and Restaurant, Swatragh (028-7940-1206); food all day, open fire, warm welcome.
Accommodation: Laurel Villa Townhouse, Magherafelt (02879-301459; www.laurel-villa.com) – friendly, well-run ‘house of poets’. From £70 dble B&B.
More info: Magherafelt TIC (02879-631510)