Tread in the paths of the glaciers this week with an exploration into the heart of the Sperrins Mountains.
The mountain range is one of Northern Ireland’s great hidden treasures and this route takes you to one of the most spectacular spots — Barnes Gap, which was formed in the latter stages of the last Ice Age.
The Central Sperrins Way is a waymarked route that meanders through the Sperrin Mountains to take in views of the unspoilt natural beauty of these characteristically rounded hills.
Start from Barnes Car Park, which is signposted from the B47 Glenelly Road. The National Cycle Network traverses the Sperrins with NCN Route 95 linking Cookstown to Gortin.
Follow the finger post across the road, and proceed uphill along the country road to the Gap. A left turn leads to a track or ‘green road' that contours Mullaghboig and then descends into the Owenkillew Valley at Vinegar Hill via a farmyard.
Set within the Sperrins Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) with wild hills, tranquil valleys, quiet villages and a rich cultural heritage, the Sperrins Mountains are a landscape shaped by ice and time.
Some 20,000 years ago, a vast ice sheet covered the Sperrins and much of Ireland. As it moved slowly across the region, glacial erosion and deposition formed the heavily moulded landscape that dominates the topography today.
Barnes Gap in the Glenelly Valley was cut during the later stages of the last Ice Age when melt water drained north from a large lake that filled the Owenkillew River.
In modern times the Gap has provided a physical link between the communities of Glenelly and Owenkillew and was the site of the National School in the 1850s.
The area is home to some impressive species of large birds. Herons live in the evergreens that provide cover while they fish in the nearby Glenelly and Owenkillew Rivers and buzzards are frequently spotted circling above above the tall trees.
Legend also tells how St Patrick spent his nights in this area praying in the solitude. Hence a small local well carries his name and attracts people from near and far on a pilgrimage for cures and miracles.
From the 1870s to 1958, water from the local burn powered the water wheel of the flax mill, or ‘scutch' mill, at Gorticashel. The actual mill has now been relocated to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in County Down.
The Owenkillew River rises in Davagh Forest and is a designated Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). Its banks support remnant oak woodlands with their own distinct flora and fauna. In the river itself, commonly found fish species include salmon and trout. The river also supports a rich array of plants, including common water-crowfoot, yellow water lily and various aquatic mosses.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at 028 9030 3930 or www.walkni.com .
Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.Walk Name: Central Sperrins Way — Section 1 — Barnes Gap to Gorticashel.
Area: The Sperrins.
Nearest big town to start point: Plumbridge.
Distance: 4.5km / 3.8 miles.
Terrain: Upland tracks and roads.
Refreshments/facilities: Toilets, car parks, accommodation and refreshments are available in Glenelly and the Owenkillew Valley.
Publications: An Illustrated Guide to Walking the Central Sperrins Way available from Strabane Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 7188 3735 and The Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930.
Walk Developed By: Countryside Access and Activities Network.
Map: Sheet 13 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop, Lincoln Buildings 27-45 Great Victoria Street Belfast BT2 7SL ( www.lpsni.gov.uk )