Off the Beaten Track – Slieve Gallion
A Journey to the Summit of one of our most Distinctive Mountains
Welcome to Off the Beaten Track – Slieve Gallion. I call this mountain ‘distinctive’ in that it is visible from almost any Ulster County, standing as it does as a centrepiece of our vast Sperrin Mountain range. It’s name translates from Sliabh gCallann, meaning ‘mountain of the heights’ – an appropriate if exaggerated name, as it remains only the 397th highest mountain in Ireland.
Nonetheless, given its geography and location it’s a totemic part of our Northern Ireland landscape, as important as the adjoining Lough Neagh and the far distant Mountains of Mourne. Yet any time I find myself drawn to its summit, I have the place virtually to myself. A good few of us know that the summit is accessible by the narrowest of twisty roads, but it is tarmac the whole way. It is not a journey for the faint hearted or the nervous driver or those who might freeze with terror when meeting a vehicle coming the opposite way.
Making the Ascent by Road
But recently I braved this peculiar navigation to the summit – or as close to it as is now allowed. Usually I commit to such journeys when in my own car, which is powerful enough to negotiate the steep ascents and plunging loops with ease. This time however, I was the driver of a somewhat underpowered courtesy car (I drove mine into a pillar) for the journey. Needless to say, its breathless motor did add a fizz of added excitement to the climb!
You’ll likely miss the turn-off from the main A29 road just north of Moneymore. There was a signpost of sorts there for a lot of years, but that is long gone. But head up the road to Carndaisy Glen but keep going for about four miles along a rural road) watch out for some crazy driving from the locals). At a staggered crossroads, head straight on. After this, the road becomes very narrow – wide enough for only one vehicle, so keep busy watching ahead for passing space.
There is a surfaced car park and a navigation marker about one mile up, but drive on. The real joy is to be had as the climb gets steeper and the road pitches around sharp bends, each with their own unique vista of the sprawling landscape below. But sure, you’ll be watching the road ahead. Right? Well you must, because in all likelihood you will meet another car. Indeed I even met a group of young men pounding down from the summit, admiring their stamina and energy – they had to get up there in the first place, remember – and even they were in single file as they met me.
Magical Views from the Summit
All the while as you ascend, the tapestry of Mid Ulster opens out before you. There suddenly, is Lough Neagh, its distinctive shape becoming apparent with every metre climbed. There is Slemish – another distinctive volcanic plug like Slieve Gallion – sitting atop the Antrim Hills, impossibly far away. Cast your eyes across the shimmering waters of the Lough and you can see the Belfast Hills, including Divis Mountain. On a particularly clear day you can enjoy the even further away spectacle of the Majestic Mournes. On my recent visit, I could even see the Cooley Mountains, across the border in County Louth.
Yet the real joy of reaching the summit is the spectacular views of the Sperrin Mountains themselves. Atop this mountain you can look around you 360 degrees. There’s Sawel, the highest mountain in the range. There’s the village of Draperstown with its backdrop of Moydamlaght, with its plunging Eagles Rock cliff top. And the distinctive pattern of Irish fields climbing the slopes of the range before succumbing to the mist soaked moorland and heathers of the uplands.
Know Before you Go
- Plan you journey on a clear day. There’s no point making your way there to disappear into the mist halfway up.
- Don’t attempt the journey if you are a nervous driver or lack confidence when driving.
- Be sure that your vehicle has enough power to negotiate steep climbs and hairpin corners.
- Be prepared for the change in temperature. At sea level on my last visit, the temperature was 21 degrees celsius. At the top it was 8 degrees, with a strong bitter wind blowing in from the south west.
- Don’t try for the very top where there is a distinctive communications array (or an eyesore in most peoples eyes). There is a padlocked gate about a half mile short, so pull in on one of the unsurfaced bays and walk up the rest of the way.
- The summit can be subject to ice and snow from October to March. Don’t attempt a journey to the summit unless you own a 4×4 and are a confident driver.
InSite Tours Ireland can help you or your group to plan your trip. The journey to the top can only be made by private car and is not suitable for minibus or coach traffic. InSite offers a day tour of the Sperrin Mountains, taking in vistas of Slieve Gallion and other notable landmarks. Or please CONTACT US.