Cuilcagh is the only county top to straddle Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and, lying on the boundary between counties Fermanagh and Cavan, is also part of the world’s first international Geopark: the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark (2008). Cuilcagh’s distinctive table top plateau is comprised of gritstone, uncommon in Ireland, eroded into dramatic cliffs and rugged rocky outcrops that sweep down to lower sandstone and shale slopes which tail off into large expanses of upland blanket bog. Below this is limestone, with its mysterious sinkholes and extensive cave systems. In view of the turbulent past of this area, the Geopark is a fine example of cross border co-operation and peaceful coexistence using the landscape as a vehicle for recreation, education and reconciliation.
The day held little promise, with rain in the air, oppressive with humidity and the pungent smell of turf, as we set off up a track at A'n'col Ln (H13385 24714)
towards Benbeg. Three figures moved steadily out on the bog, hurriedly loading bags of peat into a tractor trailer, as we left the track for steep ground skirting the edge of forestry. Thick mats of sphagnum moss entangled with heather and bilberry made the going tough. Above the forestry we traversed the edge of a corrie with steep shaly slopes of honey coloured rock beneath Benbeg. The summit is unremarkable with no cairn, but the views compensate, especially the long sweeping ridge we were to cross, with Cuilcagh at the end, moody and shrouded in cloud.
Gaining the ridge involved traversing undulating boggy ground, picking a way through a maze of eroded peat hags, then a short scramble over gritstone outcrops. On the ridge the sun broke through the cloud with almost supernatural radiance, illuminating Cuilcagh’s trig point that protruded from its distinctive mound, resembling the breast of a slumbering mountain goddess. The wind driven mist billowed like smoke up over the sheer cliff edge. The rocky summit plateau is a delight. Outcrops of gritstone are weathered into intricate patterns, some slabs of it encrusted with quartz pebbles from an ancient deluge. Strange crevices, 20 ft deep that disappear, choked with glacial debris, before reappearing, harbour huge ferns.
The cloud had now lifted, offering fine views of cornflower blue Lough Atona nestled at the foot of craggy cliffs set amid the russet and green of bog and heather. Towards the NE were small hills, ancient limestone reef knolls, and near pristine blanket bog with pools of water that sparkled merrily in the feeble sunlight.
To avoid the same return route, we scrambled down a steep cliff gully C (H11602 27151)
, heading across uneven boggy ground of reeds and knee high heather, jumping several small streams, for the edge of the forestry below Benbeg. At D (H12544 26110)
we crossed a barbed wire fence by a tree stump, using forestry paths to return to our car, grateful for our 12 km odyssey through part of the North and South’s acclaimed Geopark. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/165/comment/6447/