By Nicola Hoey, an avid wanderer of the Wild Atlantic Way, sharing her experiences at wildatlanticwanderings.com
With everything less than a 15 minute drive you are just spoilt for choice for activities if you base yourself in Grange, Co. Sligo. You can trek across Benbulben Mountain in the morning and dip your toes into the Atlantic Ocean by the afternoon. With so much to choose from within a 20km radius from Grange the biggest problem you’ll have is trying to decide what to do in the Adventure Capital of Ireland.
Atlantic Adrenaline Addicts
The only time you won’t care too much about the rain is when you are actually in the Atlantic Ocean! Mullaghmore is a contender for the best big-wave surf location on the international surf scene. Winter storms and big swells result in 30-40ft waves thrashing this coastline, mesmerizing spectators as they watch some of the best local and international surfers tackling these waves.
Now I wouldn’t recommend that you attempt the big wave surfing other than as a spectator. However, most of the time, the waters are calm enough to accommodate anyone willing to get their feet wet. Operators based in Mullaghmore offer snorkelling, kayaking, SUPing and coasteering. We decided to give coasteering a go, where you jump off sea cliffs into deep, natural sea pools. My opinion…it’s the most fun I have had in a long time! From clambering up rocks and daring yourself to take that leap, bombing and diving into the water; you can ease yourself in with a few small jumps first before taking on the higher ledges. The Atlantic proves to be one of the best playgrounds in the world! North West Coasteering provided the wetsuits and guidance whilst we brought with us old trainers and a sense of adventure.
For a calmer experience, SUP Dude will have you stand-up paddle boarding in no time. Starting off at the sheltered Mullaghmore harbour you’ll find yourself wobbling a little at first until you gain your balance but then you’ll be gliding along out past the harbour and into the bay. They provide a range of different boards depending on capabilities. For a SUP with a difference, a group of us took SUP Dude on its maiden voyage of Glencar Lake and Glencar Lake did not disappoint. SUP Dude’s head instructor, Emmet, was kept entertained by our antics out on the lake as we didn’t prove to be too graceful but it made for more fun as one by one we toppled in for a fresh dip!
If you prefer to keep your feet planted on solid ground there are a couple of routes I highly recommend that you can either drive, cycle or walk. The views are magnificent and you get the best of both sea and mountains within kilometres of each other. Starting at Grange, you can drive to Mullaghmore, park up the car in the quaint harbour village and walk the 5km headland of Mullaghmore, with the privately owned Classiebawn Castle perched in isolation overlooking cliffs dropping off into the Atlantic. Explore the harbour village upon your return and treat yourself to a coffee at Eithne’s by the Sea.
Once refuelled, drive onto Gleniff Horseshoe which brings you into the valley of three mountains. Tievebaun, Truskmore and Benwisken. Stop by Creevykeel along the way, the finest example of a court tomb in Ireland dating from the Neolithic Period (4000-2500 B.C.).
Onwards towards Gleniff Horseshoe, you can park up at the Old Barytes Mill, developed as a local amenity by the Ballintrillick Environmental Group. It includes picnic areas, forest paths, a sculpture trail as well as the remains of the old mill are all available for you to enjoy. This is a good base to start the 9km looped walk with scenery that will amaze you. (You can also just drive it if you don’t fancy walking). The area is steeped in Irish folklore legend, in particular the tale of Diarmuid and Grainne’s last night together in the cave high up the on the cliffs of Annacoona.
By and far the best way to do this route is by cycling it. There are some tough inclines but Wild Atlantic Wheels are on hand to help you conquer those hills with their range of electric bikes for rent. It still requires some effort on your behalf but it takes the hard work out of climbing some of those hills. There is also a selection of traditional bikes if you fancy the challenge?
Jump into the saddle
From one saddle to another, trade in the bike for a horse and spend an hour on the beach. Island View Riding Stables cater for all levels of experience. To truly experience unspoilt and expansive beaches of Sligo and the Wild Atlantic Way I highly recommend their unique private island treks of O’Connor or Dernish Islands. The trek takes about four hours and needs to be arranged in advance as departure time depends on the tide. I captured this photo of the crew whilst wandering along Cliffoney beach (or Trawlua Strand).
A land steeped in history
Streedagh Beach, a golden strand now popular with surfers and windsurfers, was a scene of massacre back in 1588 where three Spanish Armada ships were driven ashore and wrecked. Up to 1,100 men lost their lives as they struggled ashore. Lost to violent storms nearly 430 years ago, storms of recent have washed up remnants causing concerns that the Atlantic would sweep away hidden treasure. In July, the Underwater Archaeology Unit and exploration team along with the Grange and Armada Development recovered the canons and wheel houses, the recovery making national and international headlines.
The Celtic Fringe Festival promotes the Armada and De Cuellar stories through lectures, music and drama, walks, and tours and this year, the headline event will be a re-enactment of the aftermath of one of the greatest maritime disasters in world history. ‘Reviving the Armada’ takes place on Streedagh Beach on September 19.
If you miss the opportunity to attend the Celtic Fringe Festival don’t miss out on the guided heritage walks with Seatrails. Passionate about our Irish heritage, Auriel Robinson will meet you at the Spanish Armada Memorial Monument overlooking Streedagh and will regale you with the tales of Captain Francisco De Cúellar, one of the few survivors to make it back to Spain.
Another trail worth looking at is the Inishmurray Island Heritage Trail with Seatrails. This desolate island was inhabited up until 1948 but its first settlers date back as far as the 6th century. It is an incredibly well preserved early Christian monastic settlement ascribed to St Molaise and it’s certainly off the beaten track. Boat trips to the island can also be arranged from Mullaghmore where you may also try your hand at catching your evening supper with a spot of sea fishing.
Moving forward in history, take some time out at Lissadell House. Lissadell was the childhood home of Countess Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth, and was immortalised in the poetry of Ireland’s greatest poet, William Butler Yeats. The grounds are slowly being restored to their former glory where you can take on a guided tour of the house, receive access to the Alpine and Victorian Kitchen Garden and wander the woodlands. Lissadell Adventure Centre at the Forge offers a range of activities for children including sea kayaking, SUPing, bike trails and summer camps.
Come to your final resting stop at WB Yeats final resting place. Residing at Drumcliffe Cemetery many comment on the simplicity of his headstone shadowed by Benbulben Mountain in the background. The graveyard also contains a great example of a Celtic high cross and across the road stands the remains of the only round tower in Sligo, remnants of the 6th Century Columbian monastery. Located on site is the Drumcliffe Tea House serving up some lovely treats and stocked with local crafts worth having a browse.
Something a bit different
New to the scene is Grange’s very own Atlantic Sheepdogs where you can observe the workings of a sheep farm up close and personal. International sheepdog trainer, Martin Feeney, demonstrates how sheepdogs are used to manoeuvre flocks of sheep move sheep in their natural environment. So if you have never experienced life on a farm, this will certainly give you great insight into sheep farming in Ireland.
When you have finished up chasing sheep around the farm, stop by at Lang’s Bar and Restaurant for a wholesome meal. A long established venue in Grange, the old authentic bar retains its original features of a by-gone grocery shop so venture into the old bar to see if you still recognise the brands lining the shelves. The Guinness at Langs is a meal in itself, boasting good quality creamy pints of the black stuff.
Best not forget Benbulben
Ireland’s answer to Cape Town’s table mountain is Benbulben. A prominent feature of Sligo’s landscape it rises majestically and greets tourists from nearly every viewing point across the county. With no defined access paths trekkers make their own way up based on local advice. It really is an untapped treasure and as you hike along its brow you might only meet a handful of other trekkers. The trek can take up to half a day and should only be attempted with weather permitting. But the views from the top are worth every step taken. Soak in the Wild Atlantic Way stretching far below; try and spot Classiebawn Castle of Mullaghmore; look to the horizon for Inishmurray Island; scan below the shadows for Yeats Grave; and feel like you have conquered Sligo.
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