Go Walk: The Sperrin Mountains, Co Tyrone/Co Derry
The Sperrin Mountains, Co Tyrone/Co Derry
Start/finish: There is space to park a car near Glenerin Bridge on the Glenelly Road – the B47 between Plumbridge and Draperstown. This is the starting point. Further up the road at Garvagh Bridge there are a couple of houses and enough space for a second car. This is where the walk finishes.
There is an awful lot of talk about things that are not for the faint-hearted. Well, how about for a change recommending something that is for the faint-hearted? Every second person these days is doing some kind of challenge – cycling to China, swimming to the US, carrying their neighbour’s wife around Ireland – but how about the person who would just like to spend a bit of time in a peaceful, unspoiled landscape?
Way up in the North of Ireland lie the Sperrin Mountains. Long ago, say about 500 million years ago, these were enormous mountains, but all the original sandstone, mudstone and limestone has been eroded. What we are left with is nice, easy-going, rounded quartzite and schist – all boggy and pleasant with only the odd peak rising above 600m (2,000ft).
This is a huge mountain range stretching about 65km (40 miles) along the border of Tyrone and Derry, and it is classified as an area of “outstanding natural beauty”. Long emerald-green valleys divide the mountains and tantalizing glimpses of sparkling water can be seen through the trees lining the riverbanks. Old stone bridges still abound, the lack of traffic not having necessitated their replacement with hideous modern ones.
There are endless walks to be done, many on the hills seeking out the archeological, historical and geological places of interest, and many more among the deciduous and evergreen forests on waymarked trails. If you are there for a few days and you are duly rested, you might decide to take on a longer walk up to Sawel Mountain, the highest peak in the range at 678m (2,224ft). Ideally you would have two cars, which would mean cutting out a 3.5km (2.2-mile) road walk at the end. A second option would be to drive up to about 320m (1,050ft) on a little boreen and then only have 350m (1,150ft) or so to climb.
There is space to park a car near Glenerin Bridge on the Glenelly Road – the B47 between Plumbridge and Draperstown. This is the starting point. Further up the road at Garvagh Bridge there are a couple of houses and enough space for a second car. This is where the walk finishes.
Having parked the cars, set off from Glenerin Bridge, and towards the top of the hill there is a farmhouse. Just after the farmhouse there is a gate leading into a muddy, grassy track just about visible.
This bit is not too pleasant in wet weather but as the track winds its way uphill and the views broaden it gets easier. The higher you climb the more you see of the breadth of this mountain range. Like great slumbering caterpillars the mountains drape themselves around and about, going this way and that, all rounded tops and heathery backs.
After about 4km (2.5 miles) you come to a wide open valley with a sheep fold on the left, and a little further on you cross the boreen leading out of Tyrone and into Derry. If you had decided to take the easy option and drive up to 350m this would be the starting point. Here you will see a fence which will become your trusty companion for the rest of the walk. Should the mist come down the fence will be invaluable as this is not a mountain with easily identifiable features.
The going gets steep quite quickly and because of the boggy ground you will often have to do detours to avoid wet-feet syndrome. Try to do this walk in really good weather as the enjoyment is all about the vastness of the views.
About 150m (500ft) from the top of the mountain the fence veers away southwest, so don’t follow it: just keep on going to the top. This mountain is notoriously windy but luckily there is a big peat hag at the top, which provides reasonable shelter for picnic purposes.
It would be a shame having got this far to head down again immediately, so to make a decent walk of it even the faint-hearted could probably manage the next little peak, Dart Mountain. This one has more craggy bits to make it interesting and again the fence is a good handrail if visibility is bad. The top is a few hundred metres to the northeast of the fence.
Getting back down to where your car is parked near Garvagh Bridge is easy if you follow the fence back about half a kilometre to where it meets another fence. Turn right at this fence and follow it down over lots of tussocky grass until you come to a gate. Go through it and turn left and continue on down, meeting a track which becomes more obvious the lower you go. Eventually you will emerge on to the B47, near a few houses and some trees.
If you want to take the easy option and drive up the first section, it is important to leave a car just here near Garvagh Bridge, as otherwise the end of the walk is only on roads. This would be a delightful walk in crisp winter weather with frost on the ground and snow on the higher peaks.