Glenaan, Tievebulliagh and a subterranean waterfall

We never did find the rare black Neolithic porcellanite axe heads we were hoping for but then again did we really expect too?  That was just our excuse for an adventure, in search of the Tievebulliagh axe factory.  With maps at the ready we strapped on our courage, ignoring the prominently placed ‘Strictly No Shooting’ signs …surely they weren’t meant for us? …and approached Tievebulliagh from the Aghan Hills via the Glenaan Road.   Note to self: don’t park on top of a peat bog, vehicles tend to sink a little, especially after 4 hours walking.  That’s how long we spent exploring roughly 10km of hills and hidden glens.

The terrain was absolutely saturated from the recent heavy snows and subsequent thaw, courtesy of the Siberian #BeastfromtheEast.  The wind was blowing a hooley, the temperature was positively hypothermic and the bog was frozen solid.  So much so, that the spike from my walking pole barely breached the sphagnum moss.  But for that, I was eternally grateful because without the big freeze it would have proven pretty impassable had it been just a few degrees warmer.  Another thaw now would not make good walking.

Our flasks brimming with hot water, wearing every layer we owned, we hit the hills.  (Starting point OSNI ref: 175280).   Our first stop was the top of Aghan.  Here, not far from the fence, stands a large boulder, prominent on the skyline which we made our first landmark.  As we took shelter and orientated ourselves I was reminded of the mythical story of Tir na nOg and Oísín who died not far from here …albeit at a different stone, in a different time.

From the Aghan stone we headed down into the glen following a second fence that took us towards the Glenaan River.  Using a ‘hard to see’ broken stile we crossed the fence, not far from the ‘lonely tree’ …a singular conifer sapling, born against all odds from a seed that clearly lost its way.  At the junction where fence meets river, we crossed again wandering further upstream to take in the quietly frozen waterfalls and impressive icicles that had formed along it’s banks.  However, what we didn’t realise is that we were about to discover a very different but completely fascinating force of nature.  A hidden underground waterfall …in full flow.

It was by pure chance.  This was not on our map, but what a find!  At first glance we thought we may have landed at the source of the river Glenaan.  Water was welling up, straight into the riverbed from deep underground, creating what appeared to be the first flow.  But our maps told us that this just couldn’t be the case, the source was definitely much further upstream.  A thought that was reinforced when we looked further ahead, past the well.   There was a very obvious stony riverbed at the base of the glen, which is clearly what the map is referring too, but it was completely bone dry.  That didn’t make sense. It seemed a bit strange, especially at this time of year when everything is drenched, run offs are common, irrigation channels are earning their keep, rivers are full and all water, even the frozen stuff, is desperate to find its way back to the sea.

To investigate (with our Spidey senses on high alert) we decided to go a little ‘off plan’ and follow the dry riverbed upstream.  It didn’t take long before we heard the distinct flow of thundering water …but could we see it? Not at all.  We knew it must be nearby, the roar told us that but we just couldn’t see it.  Well, that is, not until we peered between a gap in the boulders.  There is was, right beside the riverbed, roaring past us, falling down, fast.  Where was it going?  I’ve absolutely no idea, but there must be a pretty big cavity somewhere beneath us to hold this volume of water, presumably run off from deep inside Tievebulliagh?  I’m also assuming this was the same water that was gently welling up, at a very different pace, just a stone’s throw downstream.  Is this the rivers new path?  Is it a permanent feature? Or is this water  completely separate to the river?  I’ve no idea.   A hidden, unrecorded little gem of nature that was all ours.  What an exhilarating experience and if I was being honest, pretty intimidating too.  So much so, I didn’t take a picture!  Gaad damn!  Maybe it was effects of the cold, maybe it was the unfamiliar terrain but to me it was a mystical, magical, subterranean place and as I like to think of it …maybe a gateway to another world …did someone say Tir na nOg?

We eventually did pull ourselves away, exploring the area a bit more on the Tievebulliagh side of the river but nothing was going to top this.  So with the wind picking up and snow falling we sensibly halted our walk to the summit and headed back to have hot tea and pork pies beneath the shelter of the big stone and revel in our find.  The elements may have prevented us from reaching the summit of Tievebulliagh or the axe factory but like every great walk we left wanting more. We’ll definitely be back, we’ve a lot more exploring to do and I suspect many more hidden treasures to find.

If you know anything about the dry riverbed or hidden waterfall, do get in touch, I’d love to learn more about it.

If you like this you should also check out Ronan’s Way.  Another great walk in the Glens.

3 thoughts on “Glenaan, Tievebulliagh and a subterranean waterfall

    1. Ohhhhh, great question my American friend!
      A hooley starts out as a ‘gatherin’ filled with plenty of craic and bursting with traditional music, song and dance. I tend to think of it as something you can’t plan, it’s a spontaneous response to the energies in the room that are constantly rising higher and higher. A time and place that starts out great but a ‘hooley’ rises to a whole other level.
      Now think of that raw energy, think of how it builds and builds and now think of the wind whipping up. It may have started out strong but when it’s blowing a hooley, you know it’s already on it’s way to a whole new level of gales and gusts.
      The Scots use this term too, but sure they’re only a few miles off the coast… so we let them!


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