Cladagh Glen takes its name from the Cladagh River, formed in the cool depths of Marble Arch Caves.
Over thousands of years since the last Ice Age, the river has slowly dissolved and carved its way through the limestone rocks that dominate the Marlbank area, leaving a deep scar in which remnants of Ireland’s ancient woodland nestle in seclusion.
This linear walk passes the Marble Arch itself, from which the show caves take their name, at the point where the underground waters re-emerge from the cave system.
The arch gets its name from the polished nature of the limestone, when people in bygone days used to think it was made of marble. It was also a popular spot for wedding photos to be taken in the Victorian era.
This walk starts at the Cladagh Bridge Car Park on the Florencecourt to Belcoo Road. This is open all year round and finishes at the Marble Arch Visitor Centre.
From Cladagh Bridge on the Florencecourt to Belcoo Road, walk up the Cladagh Glen alongside the river that journeys along a narrow, steeply-sided gorge towards the Erne Lowland. The gorge is thickly covered by a long established ash woodland.
The Arch over the river, formed when the cave roof collapsed, gets its name from the polished limestone that people used to think was marble. Wood goldilocks grow here as evidence that this is a very old woodland — also early purple orchid, birds' nest orchid, bluebell and wild strawberry. Red squirrels may be glimpsed in the tree canopy and pine marten frequent the area.
There are areas where landslips on the steep sides of the gorge have taken trees with them, which adds to the interest of the site. There is a folly, locally known as The Cottage, overlooking the tourist entrance to Marble Arch. This was used for shooting parties in Victorian times and is well worth a visit. This short walk ends at the Marble Arch Caves.
Rainwater from nearby Cuilcagh Mountain to the south percolates down through the blanket bog and limestone geology to create a unique karst landscape known locally as the Marlbank. Surface water quickly disappears via sinks and holes further downstream.
Cladagh Glen has been designated as a National Nature Reserve, one of a small suite of reserves in the Marlbank area. Nature reserves are important places where some of the best examples of a specific habitat or landscape are conserved through specialised management, and because they are in public ownership many have public access for all to enjoy.
Killykeeghan Nature Reserve is situated approximately one mile west from the Marble Arch Show Caves entrance lane, off the the Marlbank Scenic Loop. At Killykeeghan, the scale of the wider limestone landscape, dominated by the imposing Cuilcagh Mountain can really be appreciated.
Most of this walk follows the Cladagh River upstream. You will see varieties of tree, plant and wildlife species in the forest, such as the dipper, a small brown bird with a white patch which feeds underwater and is often seen perched on a mid-stream rock. Also evident are layered bedding planes of limestone more than 300m years old. Further on up are the Cascades, where water from an underground cave re-emerges at the surface to pour out over a natural rock ‘staircase'.
At the Marble Arch Caves are remnants of a cave roof that probably collapsed 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network, (CAAN) tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.
CAAN in association with the Belfast Telegraph have provided this information and images. 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: Cladagh Glen.
Area: Co Fermanagh.
Nearest big town to start point: Florencecourt, Belcoo.
Distance: 1.3 miles.
Suitability: This is an easy walk on forest road, well-surfaced footpath, boardwalk with hand rails and some concrete paths. Note that there are a number of steps in certain sections of this walk.
Facilities: The visitor centre at the Marble Arch Caves is open from late March to September, from 10am-4.30/5pm, with toilets, café, guided tours of the caves and shop.
Publications: 25 Walks in Fermanagh available from Fermanagh Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 6632 3110.
Walk Developed By: Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
Map: Sheet 26 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).