Hiking Cuilcagh Mountain wasn’t on my original list of things I wanted to do while in Ireland. But, I had to trim down my itinerary due to the harsh driving conditions that make up the Midland Ireland region. Only those who have driven these roads and region will truly understand my reservation and predicament in making such road trips. So, a friendly instagrammer reached out to me and gave me a short list of things to do closer to where I was staying in Leitrim.
And, when I saw the staircase leading to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain, it was a quick yes and I added it to my things to do. Cuilcagh Mountain is located just over the border from Ireland, in Northern Ireland and the peak itself also sits between the border of County Fermanagh and County Caven. It is 2,100 feet at the peak and can now only be reached via the boardwalk and staircase that is fairly new to the area, about two years old.
Of course, the creation and existence of the staircase peaked my interest and here is why it exists. Ireland land, especially this farming land is lush. And lush means wet. The land leading up to and on Cuilcagh Mountain is home to one of the largest expanses of blanket bog in Northern Ireland. In order to protect and conserve it as a wetland, the boardwalk and the 450 steps to the top were constructed and completed under strict environmental controls.
On a Sunday morning, I started my hike from the Marble Arch Caves area where you take a narrow forest road past the caves and to a dirt lot with a livestock fence. The first few miles, because hikes are especially difficult to research, I thought I was possibly on the wrong path. At 9AM in the morning, I was the only one on the trail. I kept hiking, passing herds of sheep and rolling farmland hills. About 1/4 of the way in on the 5 mile hike to the staircase, I spotted four women hikers ahead of me, securing that I was on the right path. It was a cold day, no rain but patches of ice both on the trail and off as I made my way to the top.
When I finally reached the staircase, I had actually never been so happy to see a staircase in all my life. The sight of this huge man made thing amidst nature is both a welcoming, but odd sight. It still looks new and from the bottom you can visually see it all the way up to the near top. The first 100 or so steps are the hardest, where the ascent is the most steep. You pass by a high altitude lake, Lough Atona, and then finally when at the top after the ultimate stair stepper climb, you reach the top where there is a tumble of rocks, marking your summit spot.
I was lucky to have started the hike as early as I did, because as I started my way down, small groups of people had began their way up the staircase and boardwalk. I was actually quite surprised at the ambition of locals on this cold day, hiking 10 miles, really in the middle of nowhere just to check out and appreciate the views from the top and challenging themselves up the staircase. Although, it looks like a tourist destination, the hike is not easy. Much of the Ireland destinations I visited require not much walking (hiking as we call it in the U.S.) for the big payoff of the final view and landmark. Which, is why hiking this during my visit was my most fond memory during my short one week stay.
The total hike, from the parking lot to the top and back, equates to 10.2 miles or 16.4 kilometers.
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