Those who climb, via lung-bursting flights of steps, to Cuilcagh’s summit, will be rewarded with views of loughs, rocky ridges and the snaking boardwalk – a vista that’s made it a social-media star.
The route up the 665m (2,180ft)-Cuilcagh has always attracted hikers, with around 3,000 people a year historically heading up from a start point near Marble Arch Caves, in Northern Ireland’s County Fermanagh. The proximity of the caves – a set of karst caverns that stretch 11km (7 mi), past stalactites and underground rivers – helped attract visitors, as did the fact that Cuilcagh’s summit straddles the border, making it the highest point in both Fermanagh and County Cavan.
But that footfall was causing serious problems. The climb passes through damp, peaty bog, with shrubs, mosses and pools that support rare water beetles and bugs, as well as providing a home for birds like golden plovers and merlins. Healthy peatland also stores rainwater and acts as a major carbon sink. And hikers were giving this pristine landscape a bruising.
Building the boardwalk was a major project – the steep ascent at the end of the route features 450 stairs across 36 flights. But the results were spectacular. The new boardwalk not only protects the bog, but it’s also turned the Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail into a major attraction, with countless iconic Instagram posts and over 70,000 annual visitors.
The ascent is a serious undertaking. From Legnabrocky car park it’s a 14.8km (9.2mi) loop on foot, with 1.6km (1mi) of the stepped boardwalk at its summit. Most walkers take 5-7 hours. The trail is isolated, which means you’ll get great scenic views, but make sure you come prepared with maps and waterproofs. To protect the glorious bogland, dogs are forbidden, and hikers should stick to the marked paths.
The Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail’s success has resulted in it being very busy at times. In July and August especially, it’s worth booking a parking space in advance.