Brave the steps of this ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in Fermanagh

by Shane Dillon

As the old saying goes, “If you build it, they will come”, which is perhaps not the most obvious of links to a windswept mountain side and blanket bog, but bear with me.

Said terrain is home to the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – AKA the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail – which threads a thin path along the side of a mountain a boulder’s roll away from the Marble Arch Caves, just across the Border in lovely Fermanagh, near Belcoo.

Truth be told, I found the trail to be a curious mix of scrabbly gravel, glorified wooden pallets and fixed steps on my recent visit, but it’s a clear, defined route across the middle of nowhere.

And my, what nowhere, as the rolling hillsides set at the feet of the dark Cuilcagh mountains, offer some of the bleakest but most striking views on this island with nary a tree to be seen, putting you slap-bang in the middle of plants and terrain impossible to find in Dublin.

Those with a hunger for barren beauty will find their taste easily sated here, as they drink in sweeping, expansive views of what feels like a particularly ancient part of the North.

And that’s where my Field of Dreams reference at the start comes into play. (See? I told you it would.)

These particular fields of dreamy views don’t draw the ghosts of baseball players forth, but instead the living from every corner of the island of Ireland.

You’d be surprised how many people want to cough up £5/€6 to park in the middle of nowhere and then do their best Von Trapp hill-roaming – I certainly was.

These hills may not have been alive with the sound of music, but they at least echoed to the sounds of families from Kerry, raggle-taggle groups of Dubs, lone dog walkers, gossiping middle-aged locals, and curious Brazilians disgorged from a minibus, with a busy car park that was absolutely humming with activity.

You might think you’d be far from the madding crowd up here – but the madding crowd appears equally determined to traipse yon hills with you, as you’ll find twos and threes and lone wolfs before and behind you on the path.

They’re there for the views of the bog and hills, the atmosphere and the trail itself, of course – different accounts peg it at somewhere between 16-20km long, for those brave/uninformed souls who decide to hike out to the very end and loop back.

Those who do will gradually scale the sides of the Cuilcagh mountains, where steps and stairs reward hardy hikers with some truly spectacular, unique views at key viewing points.

Or so I’ve heard – conscious of my waiting chauffeur (a sister) back at the car park, I just had time to walk a few kilometres out before returning, long before facing the challenge of the true climbs ahead, while silver curtains of rain descended on the darkening hills behind.

And a good thing, too – the next day, leg muscles in a delicate area had completely seized up, turning the stairs at home into my own private Matterhorn to descend, before facing the vast, daunting Hallwaytokitchen Plain to slowly shuffle across.

That day-after delicateness was no doubt due to the deceptive travails of the trail, which isn’t accessible to everyone, and never will be.

If you have mobility issues, are a wheelchair user, or have a baby in a buggy – with the trail’s steps, gates and crumbling paths up and down hills lying in wait – this isn’t remotely for you.

However, if you’re fairly fit and mobile, understand that you’re literally striding off into the wilderness (where a few sparsely scattered benches await, but there are no toilets, shops, cafes or the like), and want to take in one of the most unique experiences on the island of Ireland, the Stairway to Heaven awaits your earthly footfall…

Related Articles