I arrived back home to the (weirdly) sunny Northern Ireland on Saturday for a week’s break before I begin my next work placement in Liverpool, followed by my move to London.
I left a cloudy and overcast Liverpool to be welcomed to the 20oC heat of Belfast. I visited my best friend that night who I hadn’t seen in two months but didn’t over exert myself as I had to rest up for the day I had planned on the Sunday. I was planning on climbing a mountain. Note that I don’t usually climb stairs that have more than three floors so I was excited to see how I’d cope.
I saw a picture of the Cuilcagh Mountain Walk on Facebook last year on an Ireland Bucket List page and was immediately intrigued. All of a sudden it seemed everyone and their uncle was climbing the staircase to heaven, and I wanted in on the action.
My cousin and I set off for the Marble Arch Caves (another Irish tourist attraction worth visiting) in County Fermanagh at 11am on the Sunday, as the parking for the trail was at the same place. We had no problem getting down and arrived around 12.20.
The road leading up to the park is very narrow and we started to come across parked cars on the roadside ten minutes before the entrance. There were stewards on the road signalling cars, as the walk has become insanely popular, with Sundays being a peak day for visitors.
Even though it was already 20oC at 12 o’clock and set to be the hottest day of the year, the people turned out in their droves to climb the famous stairs. We had to park a good fifteen minute walk from the entrance to the park, following the line of traffic ahead of us.
We began the walk at 1.15pm and strolled at a leisurely pace. There are a few gates to climb along the way and sheep at the side of the trail. The first half of the walk was level in parts with some steep uphill stages. Nothing overly difficult. The path could be seen the whole way ahead and seemed to go on forever. We could make out figures on top of the mountain, people who had already reached the summit.
The heat was intense and we were both wearing shorts and tank tops, as were most other people. Some men even favoured to go shirtless. A perfect day for a hike. I’m ridiculously prone to sunburn (worse than gingers at times) and was already reddened from sitting out in the 19oC heat of Liverpool on Friday so I was lathered in sun-cream. The heat wasn’t unbearable, it made for nice pictures as the air was so clear.
We stopped a few times for photos and water breaks, taking in the scenic views and wiping the sweat from our faces. I commented how nice of a walk it was and that climbing a mountain didn’t seem too difficult.
It seems I spoke too soon. The stairs were incredibly challenging and never ending. I made it a bit easier by stopping at every break in flight, taking photos. The views were insane. After taking about ten stops to catch our breaths and making way for people on their way down (the stairway isn’t very wide) we finally made it to the top. My thighs felt like they were on fire but it was worth it.
The start to the steps is quite misleading as they look like small, easy steps but they are all uphill with no railing and quite steep. The stairway is a hike in itself but there is a handrail and the steps are easy to climb.
The heat did make it that bit harder to climb but we persevered and sweated our way upwards.
There is a beautiful view of Lough Atona, nestled in the mountain, which was carved out by a glacier during the last Ice Age around 13,000 years ago. Impressive.
One thing I would recommend is bringing food/a picnic to enjoy at the top of the mountain. The terrain is very flat with a lot of large rocks for sitting on. People were even sunbathing and some had even brought mini barbecues with them.
It took us two hours to reach the top and we were walking at a steady pace but stopped to take a lot of photographs.
Take the time to sit at the top for a good twenty minutes or more, eating, taking in the views and snapping some photographs. If you’re lucky to get a day like ours you should be able to see for miles.
It was humid at the top but there was a slight breeze blowing so we were able to cool off for a while before making our way back.
Down and out
The walk back was soooooo much easier than the walk up the mountain. And the views were even better. We strolled down the stairs, our thighs burning and shaking with every step but once we were back on solid ground it was an easy stroll home.
Looking back, I probably should have applied more sun-cream when I got to the top as the heat was worse on our backs mid-afternoon.
We arrived back at the entrance at 4.45pm, three and a half hours later. This was the time we had expected as it should roughly take an hour and a half each way.
1 hour 20min drive
15km / 4.6 mile trail
665m high mountain
3 hours, 30 minutes walk
3rd degree sunburn
The mountain was ablaze later on the Sunday night and was closed all day Monday due to another fire breaking out early in the morning. We picked a good day to climb it!