Ely and Carrickreagh Woods

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TYPELakeside and deciduous woodland walk with views over Lough Erne and Green Turlogh
DISTANCE6.1 miles / 9.8 km
SURFACESMostly well made woodland tracks with some less defined path walking
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS530 feet climb
HAZARDSMajor road crossing, proximity to water and disused quarry

Walking in lakeland sounds attractive, but is actually very difficult. Lower Lough Erne alone has well over 125 miles of shoreline – but only a minute fraction of this is available to walkers. Also the best ‘lakeland’ walking is often on hills with views over the water – think of the English Lake District. So a good lakeland walk needs actual lakeside paths and hills with lake views. Ely and Carrickreagh Woods have both! In addition, this walk passes through some glorious semi-mature beech and larch wood and visits a beautiful hidden valley with Turloughs (vanishing limestone based lakes!)

Getting there

Ely Lodge Forest is immediately adjacent to the A46 Loughshore Road. It is 5 miles from Enniskillen and marked by a brown Forest Service / Geopark sign.

Cars can be parked in the access layby and also in a smaller car park down a short track by the lough shore.

A car park with a view – but there is walking to be done!

The route

Leave the car park by the tarmac path, heading north with the lough to your right.

Two former crannogs are visible here – one forested and one now just a line of stones

This section of lough shore features a number of former crannogs – small artificial islands on which dwellings would have stood. They were a kind of aquatic rath (these are also common in this area) and defence and control would have been a key part of their function.

A vibrant deciduous woodland has colonised the shoreline

As you walk you will gain glimpses of the lough between the trees. Land here not claimed by agriculture (or holiday parks) is soon colonised by the natural succession of scrub and woodland providing rich habitat, but limiting visibility of the lough. In our searches for views on this route we will always be competing with trees to see the sky and water.

After 300m you come to the junction with the Carrickreagh Wood path on your left – stay with the lough and continue straight ahead until you reach Carrickreagh Jetty.

The quarries just visible here in Carrickreagh Wood have been disused for well over 100 years

The Jetty makes an excellent viewpoint for the lough, its islands and Carrickreagh Wood , but do be aware it can be very slippy in wet or icy conditions!

From Carrickreagh Jetty you can look back to the disused Carrickreagh limestone quarry. The ‘explanatory memoir’ of the Geological Survey of 1845 states:

“The dip here cannot be determined ; but there is no reason to suppose that the bedding has been at all disturbed, as the lower beds of Carrickreagh Quarry are beautifully shown in a clean face of rock, some 300 yards long, and about 80 feet high, in a horizontal position, the beds being very massive, averaging 3 feet thick, slightly fossiliferous, and taking a very fine polish. For building purposes, grave-stones, chimney-pieces, &c., a finer stone it would be impossible to find; and, owing to its being on the very shores of Lough Erne, the cost of carriage as necessarily small.”

Explanatory Memoir to accompany Sheet 44 of the maps of the Geological Survey Of Ireland (1845)

In an age before lorries, barges were the heavy transport of choice so Carrickreagh was ideally placed to source and supply the stone that built Enniskillen and beyond. The lough level was higher then as well so the shore road was sandwiched tightly between the great quarry and the water’s edge – without the wooded strip we see today.

By 1900 the quarry had closed, presumably as tastes in building changed, and new materials became available from further afield.

Now retrace your steps 300m to the Carrickreagh Wood path junction and follow this to cross the fast A46 Lough Shore Road entering Carrickreagh Wood proper by a small layby and information signage on the other side of the road.

Note the stone clad surface drain in the old well-made forest road

You are now in a woodland comprised mainly of beech alternating with blocks of larch. This is a deciduous woodland unlike much of our commercial forestry, but it is still a plantation with a uniformity of tree spacing and age and a grid of forest service roads. OS maps of 1830 show this area as woodland and, at that stage, it probably would have been primarily oak. However, the Geological Survey Memoirs of 1845 contain the following observation:

“Proceeding along the road towards Ely Lodge, the greater part of the planted ground, known as the “new plantations”, has the limestone close to the surface, and cropping up repeatedly.”

1845 Geological Survey of Ireland Memoir for Sheet 44

The forest track network we see today was fully established by 1900, probably as a means of harvesting and replanting the area as a beech woodland. The limestone is largely hidden under the canopy with the major exception of the precipitous quarry walls which, as you climb, lie below to your right.

50m before the old quarry opens the canopy on your right, a small path cuts into the wood uphill to your left

After 200m steady climb a waymarked track joins from the left and our track bends right and levels some. After another 40m look out for a small path heading uphill into the wood (you can stay with the vehicle track and you will arrive at the same place if you miss this – but the path is the more interesting walk).

Follow this path into the heart of the woodland and climb up, bearing left at a Y junction.

Keep left at the Y junction to take the higher path

Shortly after this the path crosses a broad steep clearing and you get a partial view back down to the lough below.

You now climb again and find yourself on top of a beautiful beechwood ridge where the path joins the larger official route and you turn left and climb to the Carrickreagh Viewpoint.

A glimpse of the lough from beside the viewpoint base

The building is a relatively modern wooden pole construction sitting on a much older very substantial block built foundation. Initially I thought it might have been a Victorian landscape feature associated with Ely Lodge and its landscaped driveways – but old maps show no evidence of this. Perhaps it had some forestry / industrial function or maybe it is just a relatively modern foundation for a viewpoint shelter like we see today. Anyhow it makes for a fine point to grab a rare view of this island-rich stretch of lough.

A curtain of soaring larches almost block the foreground view from the shelter

Now retrace your route from the shelter to the small path junction this time swinging left to re-join the forestry track.

After a short retrace you head downhill and then track the track to your left

After 100m downhill the track turns to the right to hairpin back – but you turn left and uphill to explore the higher section of Carrickreagh Wood.

To your right a ruined wall marks a boundary

About 150m up this track you seem to be converging with a track (or rough lane) coming in from the right. However, the two tracks never join even though they approach to about a metre apart (separated by a ruined wall) after which they diverge uphill in different directions!

Looking at the trees around you suggests a simple explanation. To your left is clearly beech and larch plantation – across the ruined wall the woodland is much more diverse and scrubby with largely native species. This then was almost certainly the former plantation boundary and the other track was for the use of a different landowner.

Continue uphill as the track bends to the left before levelling as you approach a track junction where you turn right slightly uphill into the heart of the beech wood. This is a delightful section of walking along a minor track up and over a low ridge within a maturing beech wood. The track itself has a different nature and may be older than the plantation road you have just left.

After 100 metres the track is blocked by several massive boulders. A relativity recent intervention I suspect but an interesting one which serves to disconnect the vehicle track from the lane you now join running along the edge of the woodland.

Not a megalith – this stone structure

Again the character of the track has changed – this farm-like lane seems to belong more to the partially wooded fields to your right than the forest you have just walked through. However, I think there is a more interesting origin here. The OS map of 1830 shows this track as part of a continuous road between Enniskillen and Ballyshannon. The Geological memoires of 1846 state:

“The ground between the old and new coach roads between Enniskillen and Ballyshannon, from Levally Glebe House to the Quarries of Carrickreagh, is formed of limestone, which shows itself in every little stream; and at the higher parts of Fardrum and Carrickreagh, there are innumerable limestone ridges, running parallel in a N.W. and S.E. direction.”

1845 Geological Survey of Ireland Memoir for Sheet 44
This lane was probably the old coach road from Enniskillen to Ballyshannon

Even without the historical significance, edges in general, and woodland edges in particular, are often rewarding places to explore.

The partially wooded pasture to your right is mainly concealed by high hedges but as you proceed along the track you will gain glimpses of the farmland low ridge and valley which now runs parallel to your route.

The knowledge of a hidden lough add to the interest of this unique landscape

After 700m you come to a junction with a broad path on your left which rises slightly to a crest before descending into the wood below.

The wood here has an under-storey of holly and other woody scrubs

Follow this path downhill until it joins the main plantation track network. Here you turn right and follow the larch lined track for 500m.

You now arrive at a cross roads where you have a choice. The main route here turns left uphill directly back to the farmland. However a short extension straight ahead gives you a chance to view Fardrum Lough – a geologically and botanically significant feature.

Fardrum Lough the Vanishing Lake (option 1.4km)

You are walking in limestone country (Karst) and the normal rules of Irish hills no longer apply! Rather than water being trapped in blanket bog above impermeable rock, the underlying rocks here are permeated with underground passages and waterways. Where these meet the surface, streams and lakes can come and go in abrupt and unexpected ways! Fardrum Lough is a Turlough a geologically important feature associated with Ireland and in one site in Wales:

Turloughs are seasonally-flooded lakes in karstic limestone areas, that are principally filled by subterranean waters via ephemeral springs or estavelles, and drain back into the groundwater table via swallets or estavelles – they have no natural surface outlet.”

UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee website

Because of their hidden water supply and therefore persistence over time they create a unique limestone environment and support important distinctive vegetation communities.

So, to visit Fardrum Lough just continue along the track straight ahead for 700m until it exits the woodland at the public road. From here you should have a good view of the Lough (if it is not in its vanished state!)

Fardrum, a vanishing lake in a hidden valley!

Now retrace your steps to the plantation track crossroads.

Main route continues

At the crossroads turn right uphill. Just before reaching the edge of the forest the vehicle track ends and a path continues past a metal barrier to rejoin the forest edge.

Now turn right and rejoin the old coach road between the plantation and the farmland.

The low ridge to your left hides the shallow valley beyond and Green Lough which (usually) sits in its floor. This is the second of the three Turloughs which lie in the base of the hidden shallow limestone valley.

Unfortunately you can’t quite see the Green Lough from the track as the ground falls away too steeply

Continue along the boundary track (or old coach road) for 500m until you revisit your earlier turning off point and once again turn downhill along the forest path.

This time however, when you come to the plantation track, cross over and pick up the shady path as it drops along a curved cutting in the wood.

Down through the bunny hole and continue on your way back home!

Again this path feels older and certainly more interesting than the vehicle track grid you have just left behind. You now cross another plantation road and continue downhill now curving to the left towards a large open area where some new housing has recently been built.

A little care is need here as the path becomes less well defined as it twists between the trees, now running parallel to the open ground below. The small path then drops down slightly and joins the end of another, largely disused. plantation vehicle track.

In the Autumn the mat of leaves here can almost hide the track surface completely

400m will bring you to the track junction where you rejoin the entrance track you walked earlier. Turn right and descend to the road crossing.

As always – beware the automobile

You now return to the lough and turn right along the shore. The wooded isle ahead to your right conceals the modern Ely Lodge which gives this area its name. An historical oddity is recorded in the NIEA register of historic properties:

“In 1870 Ely Castle was blown up as the climax of festivities marking the coming of age of the fourth Marquess of Ely (1849-1889), who had succeeded as a boy aged only eight.”

Register of parks, gardens and demesnes of special historic interest (NIEA)

The ultimate in extravagant youthful high spirits or, more charitably, a manifestation of the Victorian fascination with the power of applied science? The historical record does not make this clear! There had been an intention to replace the castle with a new build but this was not followed through. In the 1880’s the former castle stable yard was converted into a residence and this is the building which bears the name ‘Ely Lodge’ today!

Enjoy your final ration of true loughside walking on the return to the car park and don’t forget to watch out for the rich water bird life which abounds here.

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

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