Lough Belshade, backed by the snow-capped higher Bluestacks.
In some of my recent posts on the Bluestack Mountains, I’ve talked about considering various routes to take in Croaghbarnes, Meenanea and Cronamuck. It looked too far to do this walk from Barnes Gap over Browns Hill and then back out over the same route. I had made an attempt from the east, aiming for Cronamuck first, but a swollen river and terrible weather had thwarted that effort. I decided to have another go, from the other side, aiming for Croaghbarnes first, starting in the southwest near Lough Eske, and so I set off on a bright mid-April morning.
Driving along the western side of Lough Eske, I then took an unnamed minor road near its northern shore which seemed to head directly in the desired direction. It was little more than a rough track, and eventually petered out at a gate. There was room to park without blocking the gate, and crossing it, I set off on foot along a gravel trail which loosely followed the course of the Corabber River. In no time, I found myself in a very wild, remote part of the Bluestacks. I followed the track and river through complicated terrain, with lots of little hills and valleys, and further back higher, steeper hills and cliffs. Navigation would have been difficult if I hadn’t had the river to follow, especially when the track disappeared into the bog.
Setting off alongside the Corabber River.
The gravel track which I initially followed, looking back in the direction I had come from near Lough Eske.
An area of hills and waterfalls, with the higher mountains behind.
Stepping stones across a little burn sweeping across the track.
The small Corabber River.
Another look back along the track towards Lough Eske.
Around this point, the track disappeared, and the river was my only guide through bog and hills.
Around this area I caught a glimpse of newts in the undergrowth a few times – a rare sight. Unfortunately, they were always too quick to get a photo, but, looking more closely at the ground led me to spot these colourful lichens.
It was mid-April, but we’d had a recent cold spell, and there was still snow on the mountain tops.
The Corabber River made its way to Lough Belshade, making a raised valley on the way, bounded by mountains on either side, To the east was Croahgagranagh, Croaghanirwore and Croaghnageer. To the west was the big Bluestack ridge, comprised of Croaghgorm, Ardnageer SW Top, Ardnageer and Croaghbane. North of where the river veered west towards Lough Belshade, the valley continued, with Croaghbarnes, Meenanea and Cronamuck forming the western edge. These were the three mountains I was aiming for, although I also wanted to have a look at Lough Belshade too.
Looking over to Croaghanirwore and Croaghnageer.
My first goal of the day was to reach the shores of Lough Belshade. The lough is in an elevated area of the moutains, far from roads, and rarely seen by anyone but hillwalkers. I had looked down on it from nearby mountains, but had never stood on its shore before. For a while, I had been able to see the tops of the cliffs formed by the main Bluestack ridge which dropped down to the lough, but it had been hidden itself by the hilly terrain. All of a sudden it came into sight, looking stunning, its blue waters given an impressive backdrop by the steep sided mountains, topped with snow.
A first glimpse of Lough Belshade, backed by the mountains.
I made my way down to the shore to enjoy the dramatic setting of the lough.
The slopes of Croaghbarnes, which would be my next destination.
Amazing colours and textures in some of the rocks around the shore.
I had gained a lot of height on the walk so far, but hadn’t reached the top of any mountains yet. Even so, I felt that regardless of what else the walk revealed, I had already been well rewarded by the beauty of Lough Belshade. I had a spring in my step as I set off to ascend the first mountain of the day, Croaghbarnes, in Part 2.