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ULSTER

ULSTER

Aghla Mountain

On a splendid rural track beside Lough Finn

of a prominent gully running some 400 vertical metres up the north face of the mountain. Once in the gully you’ll find a faint informal trail criss-crossing back and forth across the stream. The stream itself should be no more than a simple hop across, so if it’s running more strongly than that, consider taking the open slopes to the right (west). The gully itself is hemmed in by steep vegetated cliffs, with hawthorn, mountain ash and birch all growing on the grassy ledges. The surrounds are unusual for an Irish mountain, and it has the feel of a goblin wood, framing views of the dark lough below. Continue to climb steeply through the gully, taking care over the sharp boulders. At a narrowing of the rock walls, an awkward old fence bars the way. Cross this and

continue up, as the cliffs lean back and the gully opens out a little. Cross a patch of scree and a little higher up a pretty stream cascades into the gully from the left. The ground becomes more difficult here so if you’d rather take the open slopes, you’ll find a conspicuous sheep trail leading out of the gully on the right. If you press on the ground becomes easier, until a small waterfall and slimy rock-step bars further progress. This can be easily enough scrambled up, but is perhaps a little too insecure and dangerous to be worth the effort. Instead you can exit the gully on the left and make the final short, steep pull onto the northeast shoulder of Aghla Mountain. It’s quite possible that with the intricacies of the ascent demanding your full attention, you won’t have noticed the

Looking over Lough Talt from Aghla Mountain

Gareth McCormack explores an exciting route to the summit of this little-visited Donegal mountain. Photos by Gareth McCormack

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s a child growing up in County Tyrone, it was common to take family holidays in Donegal. Those summer trips often took us up through Fintown, past the dark waters of Lough Finn and the looming bulk of Aghla Mountain rising from its shores. That sight was one of the first to stir a fascination in me for mountains, yet it took me until this year to actually set foot on Aghla. To wait all that time could have left me vulnerable to

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a feeling of anticlimax, but in the end I wasn’t disappointed. Aghla is something of an orphan among Donegal’s mountains, cast adrift among anonymous hills between the Bluestack and Derryveagh Mountains. Geologically it is quite different from those granite ranges, its slanting quartzite rock reminiscent of the Urris Hills of the Fanad Peninsula to the northeast. For walkers the rugged and complex nature of the terrain provides a challenging excursion that belies the mountain’s modest height of 593m.

A highlight of the route is the ascent through a dramatic, tree-filled gully, riven deep into the northern flank of the mountain. However, the use of this approach will depend on the level of the stream that cascades down the bed of this magical little valley. If the water level is too high you can easily bypass the gully and climb the slopes to the west. A note of caution about navigation: the summit area is a complex maze of outcrops, hollows and steep ridges and should not be taken lightly in poor visibility. The summit trig point requires precise compass work to reach on a bearing, while the descent is complicated by bands of dangerous cliffs. A clear day is preferable, not least to savour the magnificent, far-reaching views.

Getting to the Start The walk starts near the western end of Lough Finn. Follow the R252 from Ballybofey as far as Fintown. Continue through the village along the R250 in the direction of Glenties and after about four kilometres, at the west end of Lough Finn, look for a minor road on the left. Take this road and park in any of a number of informal laybys beside an old football pitch (GR: B 891,006).

The Walk Follow the minor road southeast past an old whitewashed shed and through a gate. Continue downhill and around the western shore of Lough Finn. Your first goal is the grassy fan that lies at the base

Trig point at the summit of Aghla Mountain

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ULster

Resting beside a mountain pool, Aghla Mountain

views slowly revealing themselves. So, as the gradient relaxes, you can stop and take in the panorama across the Gweebarra Valley to the Derryveagh Mountains, with the sharp pyramid of Errigal Mountain peeping out from behind the shoulder of Slieve Snaght. At this stage you’re not much more than half a kilometre from the summit, but the intricacy of the intervening terrain makes it feel like twice that distance. Continue in a southerly direction to reach two small unnamed loughs. If the weather is clear you should now be able to see the triangulation pillar on the ridge above you. Turn to the southeast and make your way over a series of rises and hollows. You’ll have to cross a new fence, and this is easiest done right on the summit ridge, just a short distance from the trig point. The views from the top are tremendous. As well as the fine vista to the north, there are equally impressive views to the south into the Bluestacks. To the west the sandy mouth of Gweebara Bay is prominent, while to the east, on a clear day, you can make out the rolling outline of the Sperrins in County Tyrone. The safest line of descent is to the north, where you can descend along the broad and rugged northeast spur of the mountain. In poor visibility the steep northern flanks of the mountain and then the forestry plantation can be used as a handrail to guide you in the right direction. Alternatively, you can visit Castle Lough before descending via a more southerly spur. v AGHLA MOUNTAIN FILE While offering some Distance: 7.5km / 41⁄2 miles superb and rugged walkAscent: 480m / 1574ft ing, this option requires Time: 4-41⁄2 hours care descending through Maps: OSi Discovery Series the bands of cliffs that 1:50,000 sheet 11 ironically show up more

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clearly on the old inch to a mile map than the modern 1:50,000 sheet. At the bottom of the cliffs head north to join the normal line of descent in the vicinity of Crocam. At Crocam you’ll pass the eastern edge of a forestry plantation. Down to your left now you’ll be able to see the shores of Lough Finn, an old farm and the track leading back to the start. Steep grassy slopes can be followed directly down to the track, or else you can continue along the spur of the mountain and join the track further east. Turn left along the track and follow it through the forest. Keep left as the track splits at a farm and reverts to tarmac underfoot, and continue past the bottom of your ascent gully. It’s now a simple matter of following the road the short distance back to the start.


Aghla