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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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!