Hiking Benbulben, Sligo, Ireland

Last September, whilst on holiday in Ireland I was able to get my hiking boots out and do a bit of hill walking. Knowing that I would have one day available near Sligo, I did an internet search to see what was around. There was no doubt that I’d have to have a crack at Benbulben (Benbulbin). Steeped in local legend, this 526m limestone hill looks hugely impressive due to the cliffs that surround most of the summit. Situated near to the coast, I imagined that there would be excellent views in all directions.

Benbulben has steep sides topped with cliffs
The impressive steep sided Benbulben near Sligo

Benbulben is part of the Dartry Mountains to the north east of the city of Sligo, known as Yeats Country after the famous 20th century Irish poet. Further back in history, legend has it that Benbulben is the resting place of ancient an Celtic warrior called Diarmuid. Diarmuid was tricked into fighting an enchanted boar by a giant called Finn McCool. The warrior was killed when his heart was pierced by the boar’s tusk. Benbulben is also the only place in Ireland where a white flowered, alpine plant called Fringed Sandwort has grown naturally since before the last Ice Age.


There did not seem to be too much information online about possible routes up to the top, so I ordered a map in the hope that there would be a footpath marked on in. Ordnance Survey Ireland produce good maps which can be seen on their map viewer however there are footpaths marked on the paper map which are not shown on the online version.

The route up that I chose starts at Cloonmull, to the south of Benbulben and Kings Mountain. After a gentle walk across a couple of fields the path rises rapidly underneath the cliffs. Through the middle of the cliffs is a small gully that provides a sensible route to the top. With dense clouds surrounding the cliff tops Benbulben looked formidable, however it also looked like I would be denied the splendid views that I was hoping for.

Benbulben can be ascended by the side of a small stream
The path goes up the through the gulley that can be seen in the centre of this photo. The summit of Kings Mountain is just to the left of the gully.

Navigation in the Clouds

Following the path as it led along the stream I was soon engulfed in cloud. After a while I approached the plateau, which is a reasonably wide expanse of peat bog. Given the lack of visibility and the condiserable amount of steep cliffs surrounding the plateau, I wished that I had remembered to buy a new compass after leaving my old one on Pen-yr-Ole-Wen in Snowdonia. Fortunately I had an emergency compass and the ViewRanger app on my phone. As long as my phone did not run out of power I could find my way back to the stream head and safely back down the gully.

Wanting to test my navigation skills I took a very approximate bearing and headed off towards the summit. Beyond the summit in every direction are steep cliffs, so I proceeded with caution. Knowing that I must not go too far downwards but also trying to trust the compass reading, I skirted round the edge of the plateau. Needless to say I was destined to walk wide of the trig point. After about an hour of walking I doubled checked my position on ViewRanger and corrected my direction, which led me up to the summit trig point

With cloud surrounding me the view from Benbulben’s summit was non-existant. There was a distinct path from the trig point back in the general direction of the stream head, so I followed this along the plateau for a some time. As shown on the map (below) there is smaller summit to the south east of the main summit. After going over this I checked ViewRanger in order to get back to the stream head.

Cope's Mountain and Crockauns across the valley to the south
The view looking south from King’s Mountain:
Cope’s Mountain and Crockauns

The Clouds Lifted

As I headed back the clouds on the south west of the mountain began to lift. The timing was good, another 15 minutes and I would have been well on my way back down. I cut across to the south west edge of the plateau and was able to admire the spectacular view across Sligo harbour the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

A view of the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west of Benbulben
The clouds lifted in the west to reveal views of the Atlantic Ocean

On the summit of Kings Mountain (Slievemore) I got chatting to the only other person to be found wandering round the plateau in the clouds. Hailing from Cork, he was (almost) a local lad who warned me about the risk of being bitten by ticks, due to the amount of livestock in Ireland, and advised me to wear gaiters.

Despite the initial cloud and interesting naviagtional exercise, the sudden lifting of the clouds with the resultant view made this a notable walk. If you’re in the Sligo area hiking up Benbulben and Kings Mountain is definitely a recommended hike.


More walks can be found in our Hikes, Trips & Travel section of the blog, and you can see our Benbulben hike photos on Flickr.


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