It never dawned on me that by the end of that day I would be immortalised on social media, caught on camera sneaking across an angry barbed wire fence using nothing but some courage, pipe insulation and two burly men …but it’s true!
The day started out well enough. The weather was on our side for a change, a rare day in March when the sun was actually shining bright and the wind was more refreshing than bracing. A bunch of us had travelled up early from Belfast to support the Omagh & Sperrins Walking Festival at Gortin, County Tyrone. We could only manage one day of the festival so opted for the Saturday moderate walk to Robbers Table along The Lisnaharney Loop. Billed as 10 km or 4 hours; mostly minor roads and tracks with some open hillside, suitable for walkers comfortable with 3 hrs+ walking on trails. Perfect, we thought. We were all seasoned hill walkers with mixed experience, joining a much larger group on the day, so this sounded like a great choice for a lovely time in the Sperrins.
Who were we kidding! By the end of it, after hurdling 6+ barb wire fences …high ones …my Fitbit told me we had walked 19 km or 12 miles, spending nearly 6 hours on the mountain. That’s practically double the original distance! …suggesting to us that the organisers hadn’t actually walked the route beforehand. Well, their negotiation of 20 people across the endless supply of barb wire fences told me that clear as day. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a bargain and as mountain miles go this was definitely value for money but seriously, 6 hours later our wee legs were shattered!
Having said that, my friends and I had a fabulous day and I would happily return. Maybe not for this particular walk, the barb wire fences have taken care of that, but certainly to the Sperrins and back to Gortin. Honestly, with heart attacks averted and everyone home safe and sound, I can genuinely look back on a day filled with challenges, outstanding scenery and craic and say we had a great time.
We boarded the festival bus at roughly 10am from Gortin Activity Centre and headed to our starting point on Lisnaharney Road. Then together we followed the signs that took us uphill along the Lisnaharney public right of way, passing farms, crossing stiles and ‘kissing gates’ as we went …now we’re talkin’!
The tarmac soon became a tractor path and when we reached the high point on the path which was blocked by another gate (…sadly, not the kissing kind) we stopped to take in the views of the High Sperrins, the Bluestacks and Errigal standing proudly in the distance. At this point it was no surprise that Gortin Glen is listed nationally as an area of outstanding natural beauty. To our immediate right and further uphill we could see our destination for lunch, the Corraghchosaly Mountain aerial and to our left was Robbers Table, named after the naughty local highwaymen who used this revered look out post to divide their spoils and cause havoc, a few centuries ago.
The hillside climb up to the aerial was tough enough. Knee deep in classic heather and holes, this traditional peat bog was littered with barb wire fences and roughly three false summits. So many, that we swore the fairies were moving that bloody aerial! From the bottom it looked like a fairly straight hill climb to the top but in reality it was anything but. Yes, I’ve traversed much worse over the years but if I was being honest I think the expectation of our extended group was for something a little less arduous on this particular day. Nonetheless, up we went, the mighty conquerors …all now featuring spectacular buns of steel!
In the spirit of what goes up must come down, we joined the much easier but still pretty hilly forestry track through Gortin Forest Park which took us onto the Ulster Way, crossing the main road to Omagh, past the Gortin Lakes, up and down even more rolling hills and eventually back to Gortin for 4pm.
Thankfully there were big comfy seats with tea and biscuits at the finish line, alongside some talented musicians and a local storyteller, all of whom we thoroughly enjoyed. As we rejoiced in our collapse and reveled in our fatigue we were serenaded with songs, poems and tall tales of days gone by, before we had to hit the road again back home to continue our delight with a well earned Chinese and a large bottle of red. Heaven.
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