Explore the Cuilcagh Boardwalk
Say the words "Stairway to Heaven" and most people think of classic rock, power cords and big hair. In Ireland, it means something very different…
Our Stairway to Heaven is a meandering trail that takes you through farmland, over blanket bog and literally to the top of a mountain. Starting in the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh and ending in a viewing platform suspended off its flat-topped summit, the Cuilcagh Boardwalk is 11km/4.6 miles of natural beauty that more than rewards the effort it takes to reach the top.
The stairway is real – the boardwalk transforms into a set of steps that climb steeply up the mountain – and the experience is definitely heavenly. When you get to that viewing platform, it feels like the whole world has been spread out at your feet. The sun glints off the waters of Lough Nean, the hazy blue of far-distant hills merges with the horizon. The colours of that varied countryside – jewel greens, russet browns and stone greys – shimmer in the light. In a word, it’s magical.
This extraordinary walk is located within the unique terrain of the Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark, which stretches from the northern shores of Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh to the southern shores of Lough Oughter in County Cavan.
Within it, you’ll find everything from forests, lakes and winding rivers to prehistoric tombs and Iron Age forts. Must-see attractions include the subterranean wonders of the Marble Arch Caves and the rich archaeological treasures of the Cavan Burren Park.
Cuilcagh Mountain itself is designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Natura 2000 site and a wetland of international importance.
Built on land owned by the Sheridan family, the boardwalk is intended to protect the fragile ecology of the site – one of the largest blanket bogs in Northern Ireland and home to many rare species including red grouse, golden plover and a variety of unusual plants.
We inherited this land from generations before us, along with the many diverse wildlife ecosystems that make it so beautiful, and it’s our job to protect that and encourage visitors to be mindful to do the same.John Sheridan
Unless you’re used to trekking miles up a mountain, you’ll probably start this walk with an eye to the far distant summit and wonder if you’ll ever make it. The good news is that it’s a walk of many stages and a lot of the gradient is so gradual that you’ll hardly know you’re going uphill.
The gravel track leaves the car park (privately run and bookable online) and brings you through the charmingly named “Fertile Rock” – a limestone landscape of green pastures and wildflowers, dotted with deserted cottages, stone walls and dissected by babbling streams. You might even come face-to-face with local sheep as they cross the path in front of you.
The landscape begins to change and green hues turn to rust as the delicate blanket bog stretches out around you and the path becomes a wooden boardwalk. In spring, delicate puffs of white bog cotton dance in the breeze while the reds and purples of heather and purple moor grass blaze in late summer.
Soon, the rocky face of Cuilcagh looms above you, its colours and textures crystal clear in the sunshine. A steep wooden stairway climbs through the boulder-strewn landscape to the viewing platform at the boardwalk’s end. The views, when you get there, are soul-stirringly beautiful. And the ever-changing play of light and shadow on the Fermanagh countryside will keep you entranced as you make your way back down the mountain.
When you rest your weary bones that evening, the memories of the Cuilcagh Boardwalk will come back to you and you’ll be seized with the urge to do it all over again. Heaven, indeed.
Cuilcagh Boardwalk: need to know
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk is approximately 11km/4.6 miles. It takes on average 2-3 hours to walk but on busy days it can take much longer.
The boardwalk and carpark are open from 7am-11pm Monday-Sunday and you're advised to pre-book the carpark, which entitles you to a 3-hour stay. Additional car parking is available at Killykeeghan Nature Reserve 1km from the boardwalk.
Weather conditions on Cuilcagh can change quickly so check the forecast before you set out and make sure you wear appropriate clothing/footwear and bring water.
The boardwalk is located on a working farm so be aware of livestock. Dogs are not permitted.
These is no wheelchair access on the boardwalk due to the many stairs and incline leading to the viewing platform.