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Britain > N.Ireland > Co.Derry > Sperrin Mountains

A range of gentle hills, covered in both gold-coloured heather and real, physical gold


Panning for Gold
Scenic Driving Routes
Walking Festivals
Dungiven Castle
Central Sperrins Way
The Sperrins were formed by glaciers in the last ice age. Even now, winter is cold enough to evoke that chilly era. However, this isn't an inhospitable place. The peaks aren't tall and barren; instead they form gentle, rolling slopes, covered in thriving farmland. It's an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so the government take good care of it by planting hedges and protecting the flowers.

The Central Sperrins.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
The hills are on the western side of Lough Neagh. They're threaded with a network of streams and rivers. The water provides homes to hundreds of fish, and food for birds and mammals. If you're here at night, you might hear the high-pitched cries of the water bats. In the day, they roost in the shadowy corners underneath bridges. As darkness falls, they come out to hunt insects on the river's surface. This part of the landscape is popular with fishermen, particularly during the summer. Bird watchers come here to spot waders or heron.
Other people journey to the Sperrins to find something a little different. For thousands of years, this has been a hunting ground for gold prospectors. Most of the bigger deposits have long since been uncovered, but you still see some people trying their luck. They use the old-fashioned panning method, which sorts out tiny quantities of gold dust from silt on the river bed. Other minerals like black magnetite and ruby coloured garnet are also waiting to be discovered.

Youngsters trying their luck panning for gold in the Sperrins.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
If you're lucky, perhaps you might collect enough gold to pay for a pint. The best-known watering hole is The Ponderosa, high in the mountains. In fact, at 305 metres above sea level, this is the highest pub on the entire Irish island. It stands on the Glenshane Pass, an important road link between Belfast in the east, and Londonderry in the west. It's a beautiful journey, with wide views in all directions.

Dungiven Castle

Set in 22 acres of beautiful landscape gardens, Dungiven Castle stands proud overlooking the Sperrin Mountain range steeped in its own local history.

Dungiven Castle
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Travellers with time to spare can investigate one of the four specially-designated "Scenic Driving Routes". Altogether they cover 250 miles of Sperrin countryside. Along the way, they pass through quiet villages and pretty woodland - common features of this beautiful landscape.

Gortin Glens Forest Park.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Despite the existence of these driving routes, the cars are probably still outnumbered by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Hiking is popular throughout the year, but the best time is during the summer hill walking festivals. The biggest event on the calendar is August's "Sperrins Walking Festival". It's been happening annually since before the turn of the millennium. Local guides take people to hidden corners of the mountains they've never seen before. Later, as the sun sets, the tired hikers relax with good food and music.

Sperrins Walking Festival.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Besides popular activities like this, the Sperrins also offer opportunities for more unusual pursuits. You can sometimes spot gliders overhead, floating about on the air currents. Sky divers take a more dramatic approach, plummeting from hundreds of metres up in the air. Elsewhere in the mountains, you can shoot clay pigeons, or go paintballing. If a single day isn't enough time, there are plenty of campsites to choose from.

Glasgowbury Music Festival

The Glasgowbury Music Festival is an annual music festival held in Draperstown. It is considered Northern Ireland's largest independent outdoor music festival. The event was co-ordinated by locally revered singer/songwriter, Paddy Glasgow and the event is named after him. The name is a play on the prestiged Glastonbury Festival. Since its foundation in 2000, the festival has been growing in popularity and with each year, the event draws a significantly larger crowd than the previous year. By 2008, the festival had expanded to four separate stages with several areas allocated to traders, small businesses, and alternative entertainment. Fans are invited to camp at the festival.

Camping at the Glasgowbury Festival
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Any visitor to the Sperrins knows that its slopes are dominated by the gold-coloured heather. This natural resource is widely and respectfully used by the locals. Farmers feed it to their horses, to keep their coats glossy and healthy. At Easter, children use it to dye boiled eggs yellow. The blossoms smell like sweet coconut. In Autumn these Spring colours are taken over by the blood-red berries of the mountain ash trees. In ancient Celtic mythology, these plants were associated with magic and fire.

Central Sperrins Way

The main walking route is the Central Sperrins Way. It's 25 miles long, so if you want to finish all of it you'll need a couple of days. The slopes aren't usually too strenuous though, so it's not unpleasant. Along the way you'll pass by boggy upland, heather moors and small lakes. You might even see some ancient stone circles - evidence of just how many people's footsteps you're following in. Other routes, of all difficulties, can be discovered during one of the regular walking festivals. Professional guides are generous enough to share all of their secrets. Information during the festivals, or at any other time of year, is readily available at An Creagan visitor centre. Its information and accommodation options help you plan your trip, while their hand-crafted gifts help you remember it.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Visitor Information
The Sperrin Mountains are open access. They're on the west side of Northern Ireland, in the counties of Tyrone and Londonderry. Sperrins Tourism: 028 8674 7700
An Creagánis Visitor Centre provides information on the area, plus licensed restaurant, bar, craft shop and children's play area. It is open daily, 11am to 6pm (4.30pm in winter). An Creagan Visitor Centre, Creggan, Omagh, Co Tyrone, BT79 9AF. Tel: 028 8076 1112

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