The forecast called for heavy rain, but the skies blew otherwise and gave us an unexpected display of constantly changing lights and colours. There were no people on the looping trail, just a few donkeys silently grazing away in the grassy field overlooking an endlessly choppy bay. And that’s where the magic sometimes exists; in the unforeseen and dynamic expanse of natural forces.
Over the years we have travelled to a quite lot of different countries, but Ireland has always felt like magic to me. There’s a powerful energy in its soil and spending yet another fun-filled weekend exploring our home base Sligo and going on Killaspugbrone Loop walk completely in tune with nature’s cycles, and rhythms was a great way to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures.
The sun was already nearing the horizon as we walked through the dunes back to our campervan, prompting us to increase our walking pace. Buckling up for a drive back home and catching the last glimpse of it, we were reminded why we love calling Sligo our home.
Spending time among the trees, wildlife, lakes, and ocean reminds us that life is much better when we slow down, that quiet time is essential, that less is more and that life’s greatest gifts often are free and accessible to us all.
What to expect from the Killaspugbrone Loop Walk
Once you decide to follow a network of walking trails and discover a magnificent Sligo via the route that takes walkers on a fantastic loop walk, you’ll be in for a treat.
In short, the trail waves past the constantly shifting ocean shores and then continues around the Sligo Airport runway, where if you are lucky with timing can see the Irish Coast Guard Helicopter take off, and then further onto Killaspugbrone Church ruins.
From the church and adjoined graveyard, the path brings you to another white sand beach before you traverse through a lovely wooded area and then cross the other end of the Sligo Airport runway. From here the route will lead you on the main Sligo – Strandhill road and on your way to the finish point, you’ll get to walk past Knocknarea and see Dolly’s Cottage.
Getting to the trailhead
The trail starts and ends in Strandhill town, located 8 kilometres from Sligo, 45 minutes from Knock Airport o 2,5 hours drive from Dublin. If you are arriving by car, there are plenty, free of charge parking spaces right on the promenade in the recently redesigned car park.
If the weather is good and sunny, or if it’s a weekend, expect to wait for free space; Strandhill has become a quite popular seaside town in recent years attracting big tourist crowds. You can also leave your car further up on Shore Road.
Upon leaving the promenade, where the cannon is located, turn right and walk past the surf shop towards the Strandhill caravan park. Stay on the path waving through the dunes and follow the marked trail.
If you don’t have time to walk the whole length of the walk, you could leave your car at the petrol station located on Strandhill road near Dolly’s Cottage and walk to the beach through the back roads.
Quick facts about the trail
The trail is narrow and tangled in places; the scenery comes with the touch of wild and we would highly recommend it if you haven’t done it already because no other trail in Sligo is more varied than the Killaspugbrone Loop Walk. There are wide-open spaces, unforgettable views of Benbulben mountain, white sandy beaches, and a forest scattered with large pinecones, prompting walkers to stop every hundred meters from taking delight in natural wonders.
Waymarking | Killaspugbrone Loop walk is marked with purple arrows, and there are plenty of posts to safely guide you through from the starting point to the end.
Difficulty | With 6.8 km in length, the trail is considered moderate in difficulty. It covers a variety of walking terrain from forest trails and country roads to the beach and main road.
The Trail | One part of the trail goes along the main road and doesn’t offer much scenery. If you walk late in the evening, it’s a good idea to wear a high visibility vest for your safety. It takes around 20 minutes to reach Strandhill from From Topaz service station.
Highlights of the Killaspugbrone walk
Ireland is old, and due to its long history everywhere you go you’ll find ruins of hundred years old monasteries, and you’ll stumble upon crumbling cottages and historic castles. On our travels around Ireland, we’ve seen a great deal of past human settlements that have long outlived their primary inhabitants. Killaspugbrone’s walk is one that you don’t want to miss if you are fascinated by history.
Visiting the grounds of an abandoned church that’s scattered with moss-laden sunken headstones is an unforgettable experience. Founded by Saint Patrick in the fifth century, the ruin of an early Christian Church is a highlight of the walk. The deserted graveyard, a place that has known grieving, is said to contain 700 graves many of which were stacked. Thady Higgins was the last man to be buried in the graveyard that was used right up until 1961.
If you are anything like us, ocean-loving folks, you are in the right place. The beach looks spectacular on a sunny day but comes sunset, and you can enjoy an incredible array of colours. Leave your bathing suit for that next trip to southern Spain (unless you love to take a dip), grab your camera instead and enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches. Forget about the constant blowings of the wind, pay attention to beautiful lines and cracks in the sand when low tide occurs.
On the walk, you’ll pass by Sligo Airport which is home to Irish Coast Guard – Search & Rescue helicopter, operating since 2004. If you are lucky, you might even see and hear the aircraft, maintained by a team of engineers, and operated by a crew of four. The helicopter is used to rescue people from remote areas of the northwest. If you are in trouble or spot someone else needing help at sea or on a mountain, always dial 112/999 and ask for Coast Guard.
What to bring on the walk
If you plan on venturing into more rugged parts of Ireland on your vacation, and you should, make sure you pack a few essentials for a safe and comfortable journey. What to bring on the walk will depend on the time of the year and weather conditions, which you always need to check before you head out into the wilderness. Remember it rains a lot in Ireland and getting wet on a trail, no matter how big or small is no joke.
Footwear | Appropriate footwear is one of the most important items you can bring along. On a sunny summer day you can get by with trainers, but on a wet and windy autumn day, you require waterproof boots with a good grip. Don’t forget to wear good socks that will keep your feet dry. Cotton holds moisture, and to prevent blisters; you need socks that are made from sweat-wicking fabric.
Layered clothing | Layered clothing, a tried and true strategy, is your best defence against changeable Irish weather. It lets you regulate comfort by taking layers on and off. You don’t always have to wear a base, middle, and outer layer, but it’s a good idea to have them with you.
Hydration | When we are exercising our bodies need plenty of water to function correctly. Bring a reusable water bottle to keep you going.
Miscellaneous | Depending on the weather and time of the year, you can also bring sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, gloves, and hiking poles.
Things to do nearby – visit Coney Island
If your time is right with low tide, you can spend a few hours exploring Coney Island. It’s one of Ireland’s islands that once the tide is out, can be reached entirely on foot. Or, if you prefer to drive, you can also reach Cooney Island in your car. Setting foot on the island and escaping the crowded Stradhill beaches makes for a memorable experience.
Getting there | To reach the island, that’s no longer inhabited by permanent residents, make your way back to the main road, turn left towards Sligo Town and lookout for a sign for the island.
Once you arrive at the ocean shores, you’ll see 14 stone pillars that will lead you through the dry seabed to the island. Once again, you can either drive across or leave your car behind and continue on foot. The distance from the mainland is around 2.5 kilometres, and there are two sandy beaches, a pier, and a pub whose door is said to come from a shipwreck.
Things to know | Due to the intensity of tides, it’s worth doing a little planning before. All you have to do is text the word Coney to 53600 (from Republic of Ireland mobiles) or 81400 (from NI/UK mobiles)
Depending on how much time you’ve got or where you are staying, once you are back in Strandhill, pleased to have accomplished the whole loop, you can easily spend the night in one of the hotels and try at least one traditional dish. The majority of recipes are seafood-based, and it is easy to see why. With Strandhill having the Atlantic ocean at its foot, the fish is always super fresh. Cooked with different spices and served with vegetables, it is a must when visiting the town.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been on Killaspugbrone’s walk? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Killaspugbrone or Sligo and have travel-related questions!