12 Great Irish Drives: Head on an Inland Adventure Along the Twists and Turns of the Northern Glens Trail

For summer 2019, we are partnering with TheJournal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.

This week, Paul Wilson travels through four counties on the Northern Glens Trail, winding his way past rivers, lakes and waterfalls.

Benbulben mountains

  • Name: The Northern Glens Trail
  • Where: Loop through Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo and Cavan.
  • The route: See a map of the route here. Starting at Belcoo in Fermanagh, then north past lakes and rivers, west into Leitrim, onward to Sligo and curving back west to the Cavan Burren, before closing the loop back at Belcoo. 
  • What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? Skip the chilly sea air for a mainly inland loop through four counties in one journey, with adventurous twists and turns off the beaten tourist track.
  • Journey time: Five hours, or 385km. Make this a two-day drive with a night in Sligo or do the full loop in one go.
  • Photo opportunities: Stop at the Giant’s Grave wedge tomb in the scenic Cavan Burren for the money shot – or go underground at the Marble Arches Caves in Fermanagh.
  • Hidden gems: Fowley’s Falls in Leitrim is a cascading waterfall, hidden from view by hedges that you can peek through. Stop off at the apple orchard at The Organic Centre too, just a couple of hundred metres away from the Falls.
  • If you’re feeling courageous: The Eagle’s Rock walk in Leitrim is (literally) breathtaking. Tough, but worth it for the views of towering rock formations.

TODAY, YOU’RE SETTING off from the pretty little town of Belcoo in Fermanagh. Take the Marble Arch Road through the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain, and head towards the Marble Arch Caves.

Here you’ll find an underground world of winding passages and rivers. From here drive north on the A4 for Lower Lough Erne. 

Midway between the upper and lower sections of the lake you’ll find Enniskillen, the largest town in the county. Fill up at the Jolly Sandwich Bar, which offers up seasonal baked treats daily, like rhubarb scones and citrus-infused carrot cake.

Driving inland, you’ll pass through the River Erne Valley to Derrygonnelly and Monae Castle.

Further south, look out for the gently rising peak of Belmore Mountain, then head west at Roogagh Waterfall on Lough Melvin – worth a stop to take in the view and stretch your legs before crossing into Leitrim.

If you’ve packed a rod there’s fly fishing for four types of trout in the waters around Lough Melvin, according to the Drowes Salmon Fishery.

The R281 runs along the lower shore of the lake to Aghavogil Bog, where endless streams and tributaries flow back inward.

Glencar lake

A detour to Fowley’s Falls at the town of Rossinver is a must. The water spills over a series of drops. There are ‘windows’ cut into hedgerows so that you can see the falls from various vantage points. Take your chance to snap this spectacular cascade before dropping into the apple orchard at The Organic Centre just up the road.

At Kinlough and the edge of the Dartry Mountains, the R280 goes to Eagle’s Rock, where you can get out for a tough but awe-inspiring hike. If you don’t fancy the walk, road signs lead to a handy carpark for views of the unique formation.

Onward to Sligo and the R279. Here, on the Mullaghmore Peninsula, mighty Benbulben rises. Wind your way back to Cliffony and join the 10km stretch of the Gleniff Horseshoe Drive, continuing to Glencar Lake and Waterfall.

Waterfall

Near here, at Glenfarne, the shores of Lough MacNean border three counties at once – Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh. There’s lots of old romance and music in the air here, too. McGivern’s Dance Hall, or the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance, was packed with Irish showbands weekend after weekend back in the 1950s.

From Glencarne, the road leads you to Blacklion in Cavan. When you hear ‘Burren’, you may think of Co Clare, but the Cavan Burren is mightily impressive too. Megalithic structures and fossils are scattered around, including the Giant’s Grave wedge tomb.

From the Sligo Road, cross the bridge back to Belcoo, and pat yourself on the back for completing this adventurous 385km loop.



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