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Lough Eske Nature Guide

At the foot of the Bluestack mountains, discover the abundance of flora, fauna & history around the lough.

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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3.5 miles
Duration: Less than 1 hour
Family Friendly

Overview :  2014 update: this guide is part of the free Donegal App http://www.donegalapp.com/

Local poet William Allingham may well have had... more »

Tips:  This is an easy walk requiring average fitness and should take no more than an hour, but allow more to take in the wonderful flora and... more »

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Points of Interest

Our walk starts from the splendour of Lough Eske Castle. The flora highlight of the grounds can be seen at the front of the hotel in the form of a Specimen Cedar of Lebanon. There's plenty of fauna on show too, but they're all metallic!

This site has had a big house on it since 1621 with the Brookes of Donegal Castle infamy having a presence here... More

You'll be taking a right here down towards the lough and to Harvey's Point. It's a looped walk that involves a gentle descent, a steeper ascent later on and two long stretches of road - the final stretch being the one to the left of the Harvey's Point sign.

Keep a look out for a ruin on your right through the trees - this was once the O'Donnell... More

3. Down towards the lough

You may feel like the only person on the planet with the serenity and calmness of this area. This is not quite the case, but you are in interesting company. The mythical Fianna and their leader Fionn McCumhaill were supposed to be regular visitors to this area. They made their summer home in these parts and local lore is full of their exploits. ... More

4. Eske angling centre

There can be few more enjoyable pastimes than angling. John Buchan observed that the charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive, but attainable, a perpetual series of occasion for hope. The lough and its tributaries are popular for fishing, especially for spring salmon, sea trout and char, with the season running from 1 March to... More

5. Tranquil waters?

You'll be by the lough's shores by now. Out on the shore you'll see O'Donnell Island, which was once a home to the O'Donnells of nearby Donegal Castle. From here, one of the most famous journeys in Irish history began on the 11th September 1607. Rory O'Donnell and his immediate family left their castle on Lough Eske that morning to walk for three ... More

This is great place to savour both the surrounding hills and will be the closest view of the lough itself on the walk. Look out for flags, bulrushes, water lilies and reeds, as well as flowering rushes on the lough itself. The incoming rivers of the lough (and their meaning in Irish) are: -

Clashalbin River (The Gully of the White Mare),... More

7. Fauna of the area

Around about this point of the walk, you might notice an animal on your left that always wins the hearts of younger walkers - a shetland pony.

Other animals to be looking out for in this area are: - red deer, fox, badger, shrew, red squirrel (recently making a welcome comeback), the less welcome cousin that is the grey squirrel, mink (an unwanted... More

The imposing stonework lets you know that you are at Harvey's Point. Anyone who knows 'Field of Dreams' will appreciate the film's motif 'build it and they will come' which could equally apply to this area's own field of dreams. Back in 1983, Swiss entrepreneur squelched about a quagmire named after a local man and told this writer's father that... More

9. Quiet laneway

You're now moving away from the main traffic as the road narrows. It's a great place to tell you about the flora of the area. You should be looking out for the following along this section: -

- Whins, ferns (whins and ferns give area its most typical colours gold and bronze)
- Bluebells (in woods in late April/early May especially near nearby... More

10. View of the wind turbines

The wind turbines you can see across the lough are right on the border with the United Kingdom; that's how close you are to County Tyrone. By the 1970s the serious recreational walker had arrived at the Bluestacks and was coming from Tyrone. They were as yet a very small but very dedicated group. In hindsight, they were before their time in more... More

11. Birdsong

Now that we have a little less of mankind down this path, we can listen properly to the birdsong which is excellent around here. As well as common birds like magpies, blackbirds, robins thrushes, starlings, tits, wrens, the following list is more notable around Lough Eske:-

Ravens, mallard, grebe, grey wagtail, pheasant, plover, kingfisher,,... More

12. Lough shores

These waters will be remembered in history as the place where the O'Donnells fled Donegal in 1607, but seeing as we're in a poetic vein, here are the words to O'Donnell Abu by M.J McCann to mark better times - O'Donnell's victory in Ballyshannon in 1597, the melody of which is still used by RTE radio as their theme tune:-

Proudly the note of the ... More

13. Barnesmore in the distance

This is the very heart of the county, where north meets south' it's an extraordinary sight whether you see it from Sligo or coming south from Letterkenny. Ensure you stop off at Biddy's O'Barnes pub. Tales of highwaymen, hanging, fairies and strange weather abound in this place - make sure you see the information on the walls by the restrooms in... More

14. Coming to the woods

As you turn left away form the lough, you'll be walking with the gentle gush of the Clady river on your right for company. Now might be a good time to tell you of the trees to view in the area.

Our next stop is the Ardnamona woods walk which is well worth the diversion. Look out for the tallest spruce in Donegal behind the old mill in the wood. ... More

15. Ardnamona woods walk

Want to go off road and sample a walking path loops around large oak, hazel and holly trees in a woodland that is left in its natural state? You've found it at the Ardnamona woods walk. Look out for mosses, bluebells, wood sorrel, streams and the lakeside to enjoy on this delightful walk developed by National Parks and Wildlife Service. The wood... More

16. Up the hill

As we approach the old friary location, we'll tell you of another interesting fact about the area. Lough Eske is the only recorded place in County Donegal where a Síle na Gig was found - you'll see more about it on the Information Board by the Famine Pot. These were are stone carvings of women with exposed genitals, most often found in churches,... More

17. Turn left at Yield sign

As you approach the top of the hill, you'll be taking a left and leaving the signs for the Bluestack Way behind you.

This area is commonly regarded as the site of the old Franciscan friary, indeed the townland is called Friary. As Catholicism was suppressed in Ireland, the Franciscan community was banished from their friary in Donegal Town. They... More

18. First upper view of Lough Eske

If you manage to get a good day, this is a chance to see why the place enjoys is reputation of scenic splendour. Down below you is Lough Eske or Lough Eask from Irish: Loch Iascaigh or Loch Iasc meaning somewhat prosaically "Lake of the Fish"). The lake is about 900 acres (3.6 km2) in size and is surrounded to the north, east and west by the... More

19. Hillside

The 147 stacks or peaks known as the Bluestack mountains are broken into four sections: the north range, the Blue Stack range, the north east range and on the far side of Barnesmore, the east range.

Because of its natural beauty, peace and tranquility, Lough Eske and the Bluestacks has always been a place where man has thought about, and sought... More

20. Long stretch

There are two old traditional walks in the Bluestacks, still practiced to the present day. The first one is the walk up Carnaween on the first Sunday in June. Hundreds of people still do this walk on the day to keep the old tradition alive. People usually climb from three sides, Drimarone, the Glen of Glenties and Silverhill. Traditionally it... More

21. The Yank's house

Michael the affable American who lives here is always good for a natter (if he's out and about that is - don't go calling!). Other more ancient local residents are long gone, but won't be forgotten. Their biggest mark being the wedge tomb in Winterhill and the Cairn tomb in the townland of Tawnavorgal you are currently passing by.

Other people ... More

22. Famine pot

As you approach the last major landmark on this walk, look out for some California Redwood in the Coillte wood near the Famine Pot. They're relatively young trees so don't expect to see the massive beauties around the Big Sur in the Golden State.

From this pot were the impoverished locals fed during the Great Hunger of the late 1840s. There's... More

23. Back to the junction

You have now come full circle and should carry on straight to get back to the car park at Lough Eske Castle or take a left if on for some refreshment from Harvey's Point. Either way, you are in for a treat. We hope you have enjoyed this walk and will consider coming back to take one of the many walks on offer in the vicinity.

Thanks again to... More