A Locals’ guide to exploring beautiful Gleniff HORSESHOE valley in Sligo

While the freedom to explore the world is still on hold, I know that the storm will eventually clear and the natural world will restore order. As we patiently wait for pandemic cases to decrease, we are embracing little things that don’t cost us a penny; going for short, brisk walks in the nearby woodlands and capturing subtle changes that arrive with the winter season all while roaming outside political and social barriers.

Now that we have entered the new year, I wanted to reflect on the past twelve months. When I looked back on our life through the photos we captured, I realized we’ve had an incredible year. Despite restrictions, we’ve still visited many incredible sites here in Sligo, we’ve watched sunsets from beautiful beaches and sunrises from the mountains.

We’ve hiked, surfed, biked and explored every possible nook and cranny of Sligo and in the process managed to get much healthier than ever before. One particular place we kept returning back to was the glacial valley dotted with clusters of sheep in the north side of Dartry mountain in North Sligo; the Gleniff Horseshoe.

Simplicity is beautiful.

Ireland is riddled with mystical locations and hidden treasures like the Gleniff valley where you could be consciously aware of all elements of Earth. Where the rain brings rainbows and dynamic moments when fast racing clouds suddenly open up and let the sun gleams through. Where you can feel the presence of those hard-working Irishmen who lived and worked in the shadow of the mountain and where you wouldn’t be surprised to encounter fairies.

It’s been a beautiful winter day here in Sligo, and there’s finally snow on the ground. Knowing that the snow was forecasted for an early morning, we voluntarily set the clocks for six am to give us enough time to wake up, dress and have breakfast. We stubbornly fought off a sudden desire to stay huddled under a cosy duvet and stuck to our decision to head to the beautiful Gleniff Horseshoe valley to watch the sun make its way over snow-covered mountains.

The world was muted and the dawn started to proceed as we eventually reached the valley oblivious of the scene that awaited us. Much to our surprise, it was enveloped in fluffy, white snow bathed in the early morning light. There was a pleasing freshness to the air that made us stop in our tracks and take in the scene. The mist stuck to the mountains to the north and a soft, melodic bird song that lingered in the cold morning air had a way of cocooning the soul.

Beyond the tourist chart-toppers, there’s a wealth of sights that have escaped mass attention.

A Locals’ Guide to Exploring Beautiful Gleniff Horsehoe Valley in Sligo

If you are considering exploring Ireland and looking for a wild and scenic place, then the Gleniff Horsehoe Valley – off the beaten track loop drive in North County Sligo offering a myriad of spectacular hikes – might just be for you.

This post will walk you through exactly what you can expect including the best things to see and do as well how to get there and what to see nearby.

Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about visiting Gleniff Horseshoe valley.

How to get to and around Gleniff Horseshoe

Gleniff Valley is another spot you would enjoy stopping at whenever you travel further north along the Wild Atlantic Way or are coming back from it. It takes very little effort to get out, stretch your feet, explore the scenic landscape and feel like you are a world away from the glistening lights of Sligo Town.

Gleniff Horseshoe is a pretty remote area of Sligo, but it can be easily accessed from the main N15 Sligo to Bundoran road. If you are travelling from Sligo Town, pass through the small village of Cliffony (about 20km from Sligo) before taking the next right turn. The road to the valley is marked with a brown directional sign, but finding the actual start of the loop can be challenging if it’s your first time visiting.

The start of the loop is about 4km from the N15 and even if you are pressed for time, it’s not much of a detour off the main road. The loop can be toured either clockwise or anti-clockwise but my own feeling is that a clockwise route unveils its splendour to the greatest effect.

Once you arrive, you can either leave your car at the Gleniff Mill and continue on foot or drive the whole loop. The walk doesn’t reach into the higher elevation of the mountains so it provides a staggering setting to clear your head.

Up here where the air is fresh and the views are endless

Things to do and see at the Gleniff Horshoe drive

The loop walk will reveal spectacular views of Donegal Bay and on a clear day, you’ll be able to see Classiebawn Castle, built in the mid-19th century by Lord Palmerston, dominate the horizon.

Benwisken Mountain | With its stunning profile, Benwisken mountain is a sight to behold when going for a drive through the valley and so are the views from the top of it. Although there are two options to climb Benwiskin, the easiest approach is from the south side via Luke’s Bridge and the second one is from the Gleniff Horseshoe, it’s near impossible to gain access from the landowners.

Diarmaid and Grinnes cave | Do you love exploring caves and stepping into an unexplored world? High up in the cliffs of Annacoona in the Gleniff Horseshoe valley lies the legendary cave of Diarmuid and Grainne. The arched cave is the highest in Ireland and it’s a place rooted in folklore and romance.

The legend has it that the eloping couple on the run from the jealous Chief Fionn MacCool who had planned to take Grainne for his wife, hid in the cave to avoid being captured. The forbidden lovers were said to have spent their last night in this cave before Diarmuid was killed by the Wild Boar of Benbulben and before heartbroken Grainne took her own life.

The views from Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave

The Old Schoolhouse | If you’ve had a chance to visit Ireland, then you might have also noticed that you can find old ruins pretty much everywhere. A drive around the valley uncovers many old ruins. People used to mine the mountain and many families lived around here. There’s something peaceful about seeing nature reclama what’s been left behind.

Barytes Mill | The remains of an old mill you see in the peaceful setting were once used to process barytes, a mineral consisting of barium sulphate.  A railroad operated from here to Mullaghmore to ship the goods, but nowadays there is a lovely woodland walks along the river which has a small waterfall and salmon, wooden sculptures and picnic benches.

Magic road | Did you know that we have a “Magic Road” here in Sligo? Apparently, If you park your car at the bottom of the hill and take the handbrake off then the car will roll backwards, defying the law of gravity!  Either it’s fairies, optical illusion or some hidden power force, you have to see it for yourself.

Can you imagine going to school here?

Tips for making the most of Gleniff Horseshoe loop drive

The Gleniff Horsehoe loop can be visited all-year-round but during the winter period, the road can be icy in places.

Watch out for animals | The valley is very rural therefore be cautious of sheep that are often wandering on roads. If the animals don’t move, beep your horn lightly.

Drive carefully | The road is small and windy, so make sure you act accordingly – pay attention, drive slowly especially before curves and watch for other cars and walkers coming your way.

Clothing | If you plan to hike around then equip yourself for walking in a mountainous area and bring along waterproof clothing, hiking boots, a map, food and drink. Even if you don’t plan to hike, you will be wanting a pair of walking shoes.

Weather | Check the weather forecast before you go and plan accordingly. Let someone know where you have gone and when you are expected back. The valley is exposed to the elements and the weather can change quickly.

Leave no trace | In order to minimise your environmental and social impacts on the outdoors, please leave the place better than you found it. Be respectful to private landowners and nature, take all the litter away with you.

Mind your dog | If you are travelling with pets, make sure to keep them on the lead around livestock particularly during lambing/calving season which runs from January to April.

The Gleniff Horseshoe Drive on the northern side of the Dartry Mountains.

Things to do nearby

Mullaghmore | While inland Sligo has loads to offer to visitors, it is the coast that is the Yeats Counties crown jewel. Although they are not the lounge chair and sunbathing beaches of Southern Spain, it is one of the most dramatic shorelines along Ireland’s West Coast. Visit Mullaghmore, a lovely fishing village situated in an appealing waterfront location with some of the best food and views you’ll find in Sligo.

Glencar Lough | If you wish to see more of the countryside and its green fields then you can drive to Glencar Lake located in a secluded valley created by the destructive forces of glaciers thousands of years ago. The valley and the lake is shared by two counties, and you’ll be pleased to discover two stunning waterfalls. The Swiss Valley is home to Glencar Waterfall and Devils Chimney and it’s also a perfect place for a picnic.

This is the land that inspired WB Yeats

…    …    …    …    …    …    …    …     …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …    …

Now, over to you!

Have you ever visited Gleniff Horseshoe Valley? Let us know in the comments below!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Sligo and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

66 thoughts on “A Locals’ guide to exploring beautiful Gleniff HORSESHOE valley in Sligo

    1. Thank you very much! From wild winding coastal roads to high mountain passes, driving in Ireland is an unforgettable experience. We are very fortunate to have such incredible places like Gleniff Horsehoe in Sligo – every time we visit, it feels like we are on a mini-adventure. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you kindly. These lesser-known drives are my favourite to explore. Not only do you get great scenery at every turn but you also experience Ireland’s rural villages, pubs, local people, ancient history, heritage, mythology and ancient trading and pilgrim paths. I hope you get to visit Ireland one day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Indi 🙂 Sligo is home to many incredible drives, and Gleniff Horsehoe is definitely one of the most scenic ones. I was delighted to see it covered I a fresh layer of snow with no one else around. Have a good day. I hope all is well. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. My my Aiva! Those are incredible views and amazing photographs you’ve made! A lovely place for sure, so much variation in the landscape! Most certainly a must! A wonderful article, precise information and an interesting, very interesting place! Take good care, so glad to see your weather so nice, it is quite agreeable here too, actually very warm for beginning February, last year it was freezing, but I’m certainly not complaining. I love the warmer climes. But once this world returns to “normal” I do plan on a trip to Ireland and to do that I’ve your posts to guide me and prepare me. Thank you!
    All the best,

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely words, Francisco. Wishing you a happy first day of February. The 1st of February is a special date in the Irish calendar: it is the feast day of St. Brigid, and it marks the beginning of spring in Ireland. So, it’s also a time of new beginnings 🙂

      As you know, Ireland is currently in an enhanced period of restrictions until at least 5th March 2021 so normal life in Sligo is temporarily on hold. That’s why we are trying to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Sligo’s lush green fields, dramatic coastline and tranquil lakes make an amazing outdoor playground and provides an opportunity to recharge my body and soul. Gleniff Horseshoe doesn’t receive lots of traffic and that’s why we keep on returning back. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s just lovely Aiva, you have a beautiful paradise surrounding you, so you do quite well to enjoy it as much as you can. Take good care, hopefully all of Europe will come out of this situation and things like travel…which I really miss…will be part of our to do list again. All the best,

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely stunning views, not to mention the picture of your daughter and that curious sheep! You have opened up so many lovely places in Ireland to your fellow bloggers, we owe you a great debt.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Maris. There’s nothing quite like discovering a remote part of off the beaten path Sligo; somewhere away from the crowds truly feels like yours. Those willing to get off the main tourist trail can expect even more unique hidden gems that don’t make the guidebooks and Gleniff Horsehoe Valley is one of them. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I can see why you keep returning to Gleniff Horseshoe, the landscape looks simply stunning. It’s always neat to return in a different season and get a totally different experience. I can’t wait to visit Ireland once travel opens up again.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you very much. Gleniff Horsehoe looks different with changing seasons and that’s why we love it so much. It can be warm and magical in the spring and foreboding and eerie in the winter. I hope you get to visit Ireland one day, you would love everything about it. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much, Meg. We are fortunate to have many scenic drives and trails in Sligo and that’s why we are delighted to explore our backyard. Sometimes the things we want to experience overseas may actually be available at home. If there’s a cuisine you’re dying to try, check if it’s served in other cities within your country. If there’s nature or outdoor activity that you thought is only possible with a plane ride, you might be surprised to find a variation of it available at home. You just have to look for them. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Definitely a trip worth getting up early for Aiva and the fresh snow is the icing on the cake. What a beautiful part of the world. We travelled the Wild Atlantic way in 2017 and saw so much. We definitely want to come back and spend more time in this area, perhaps in warmer weather. You do live in a beautiful part of the world for sure. Have a great week. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks so much, Allan. It looks like 2021 is yet again the year of exploring our backyard. As we face the prospect of months ahead without jetting off anywhere, except for maybe Northern Ireland, exploring our big backyard is our only option. After 1,062 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed across the country on Monday evening, the government has said that summer holidays across Europe, not to mention anywhere further, are “not realistic” in 2021. That’s why I am so glad to live in Sligo. There are still many places we haven’t visited and explored properly. And the money we are spending on a staycation at a local hotel or on the menu at a cosy café in the suburbs is circling back into the economy and that’s definitely good news for everyone. Thanks for reading and have a good day. It’s lashing rain today! Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow. That is a lot of cases for such a small country. Due to lockdown measures here, cases have stabilized and gone down, except in our small city where we went from 23 -51 in 5 days. Things are slowly opening back up here next week, but I fear it is still too soon. Like you, we explore our own back yard and subsidize our own businesses. The good news is that spring is getting closer and with spring, there is always hope. Stay well Aiva. Allan

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m glad you’ve had an incredible year in your own beautiful backyard. I can relate to your story of fighting the desire to stay under a warm duvet. Sometimes it’s tough to get motivated in winter (especially in the early morning) but mostly I find it pays off with big rewards, like your experience at Gleniff Horseshoe Valley. The dusting of snow makes it look even more spectacular.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Caroline. We had lots of fun exploring Ireland and Sligo last year. You gain so much more perspective and appreciation for your country when you take the time to discover its lesser-known parts or even its most popular destinations. We are set for another year in Ireland because according to Dr Tony Holohan, holidays abroad are off the cards this summer. As the government recommends against all non-essential travel for the foreseeable future, we are slowly starting to work on a staycation wish list. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I drove this Horseshoe road and I must say that your photos are wonderful given the difficulty to have a sunny landscape, the Benbulben being on the way. I remember the road being very narrow in places, typical of the Irish landscape.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, the road through the beautiful Gleniff Valley is very narrow in places! Driving on a winding narrow country road can be difficult. There is quite a bit of gear changing, braking and steering as you navigate around the bends. Some of these roads may have a speed limit of 80 km per hour, but if you attempt to drive at that speed on these unfamiliar twists and turns all while trying to take in the sights, you could quickly end up in a ditch or a hedge. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Marie. Gleniff Horseshoe is one of those beautifully scenic drives with oodles of photo opportunities. Just read in the news that Dublin Airport passengers could be hit with a €500 fine for international travel as new regulations come into force today. Looks like we are set for another year on the Emerald Isle! Thanks for stopping by and take care. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve certainly no interest in going anywhere near an airport until this thing is well past. But its easy for me to say – you for instance are in a different situation with family at home. Also, I know of so many sons and daughters of family and friends who have come home from England and the US for a short trip – just for their sanity…. I reckon if this continues into the summer, lots of people with spare cash will cough up the 500 and head off to lesser affected destinations….. Meanwhile, I won’t even get near Glaniff Horseshoe any time soon!!! Stay Safe. XXXMarie

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for indulging our senses! That Magic road reminded me of a Magnetic Hill we have in Canada too, in Moncton, NB; pure optical illusion, but fun to go and let the car roll back🙂
    Happy Monday, xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Christie. Travelling locally and exploring your own country can offer lots of benefits. Such as helping you discover some of the wonderful places in your own country. Places which you might have always wanted to visit, but instead, had opted for an international trip instead.

      There are a few Magic Roads scattered around Ireland, and I know well that it’s an optical illusion, where the layout of the landscape makes it look like the slope is going one way, but in fact, it’s going the other, but I still love the experience. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What a great list of ideas for a tour of Gleniff Horseshoe area.Thanks for getting up early for the snow picture, since that one I probably won’t see, it’s very pretty. My favourite though is the lover’s cave with its amazing view. The landscape both on the coast and inland is fabulous, hopefully some day soon we can travel there. Maggie

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Maggie. The massive mouth of Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave by the Cliffs of Annacuna at the back of the Gleniff Horseshoe seems to attract many people. The club will give you a total rush and the views are stunning, but the cave is a steep climb, straight up for about 400 meters from the old national school and in poor weather can be difficult to reach. A successful mountain rescue operation took place at the cave on Saturday 21 Feb 2015, when a group of students became trapped by icy weather conditions. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Glenys. We were so fortunate to explore the valley before the domestic travel restrictions placed us withing 5km radius from where we live. Just have to wait another six weeks to be able to go to places. At least the mornings and evenings are much brighter, and the spring is on its way. Have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Benwiskin Mountain looks extremely similar to Kirkjufell in Iceland, especially with its spiral-like, pointed top. Looks incredible, and the long, rural road leading up to it is certainly a vision to behold. Sligo is a part of Ireland that I’ve yet to check out, and perhaps one day I’ll return to the country to do so!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, Rebecca, there are certain similarities between the two mountains! Sligo is a beautiful mountainous county containing four mountain ranges – the Dartry, the Ox, the Curlew and the Bricklieve Mountains and we are looking forward to exploring them this summer as non-essential overseas travel is not advised by the Irish Government. Thanks for reading and have a good day. I hope you get to make it to Ireland and Sligo one day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much. I love Sligo – there is a long indented Atlantic coastline with two islands. there are many beautiful lakes and plenty of mountains to keep us happy and content. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much, Mark. With the rainy and gloomy Irish weather, we made countless return trips to Gleniff Valley to capture its savage beauty. I love the solitude and the energy of the place and how the early morning light sweeps across the landscape. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much and have a wonderful week, too. We are still in a lockdown until the 5th of March with nowhere to go, but surrounding Sligo. Thankfully there’s an abundance of scenic places to re-charge my batteries. Take care. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Now you are making me feel all nostalgic, Aiva! Fantastic shots – love the first one. Snow in Ireland – that isn’t common. We have had quite a bit of snow in Texas but not this far south. Beautiful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, Kerry, how are you? Yes, snow in Ireland is very uncommon, and that’s why we always look forward to those rare winter days when it’s forecasted. There wasn’t enough to build a snowman, but we managed to throw a few snowballs. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Absolutely stunning! 😍 I had never even heard of Sligo before reading your blog (sorry!!) but now it’s absolutely on my bucket list! I love that you managed to discover your own region more despite (or thanks to?) the travel restrictions!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many travellers prefer to explore places like Killarney and Galway, forgetting that Sligo is a place full of memorable experiences wrapped up in an unforgettable landscape. I hope you get to visit Sligo one day, Juliette, you would be captivated by historical sites, roaring waves and incredible food. Thanks for stopping by and have a good weekend. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there are those few rare days when snow makes its appearance. A nationwide weather advisory notice remains in place this morning as parts of the country face snow showers later today. Hopefully, we’ll get to see some snowflakes in Sligo, too. Thanks for stopping by, Brian and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Your photos are just beautiful! That snowy picture shows I side of Ireland I hadn’t ever conjured in my mind! Love the sheep, and the first picture with the pointy mountain – wow! I honestly didn’t know Ireland was quite so varied in its landscape. Some of your pictures remind me of the American Southwest!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much. One of the secrets behind our photos from Sligo – we love revisiting the same places and photography locations over and over again. The earth is constantly changing and taking shots of the same location in spring, summer, fall and winter lets us get something different from it each time. The pointy mountain is Benwisken Mountain and some say it resembles a breaking wave. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Another beautiful location I’d love to visit. Ruins are interesting and make us wonder about the people who were on this earth way before us. As I was reading I remembered that my daughter and her husband plan to visit Ireland “one day” and I told her about your blog. I need to go send her the link.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are plenty of ruins in Ireland and Sligo and I always like to explore then as they reveal the drama of early Irish history, while also taking you to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I hope your daughter and her husband get to explore Ireland one day once the pandemic crisis is over. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely weekend. Aiva 🙂


    1. Thank you kindly. Gleniff Horshoe drive is one of those places many tourists do not know about and it’s a place we often visit to get some peace and quiet. Apart from wandering sheep, there’s not much else around – pure bliss! Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much. Gleniff Horseshoe valley is a sight to behold at any season; we were fortunate enough to experience a mini snow storm! Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Mark. Due to pandemic crises and travel restrictions, Gleniff Horseshoes is out of reach for now. Fortunately Ireland’s strict Level Five lockdown is finally set to be eased this month. How exciting is that? Cheers for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂


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