21. Sliabh Liag – The Pilgrim’s Path

Known in English as Slieve League, and boasting some of the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, this coastal mountain in the southwest of the county is a mecca for tourists. In summer months the official viewing point at Bunglas is full of visitors snapping the famous cliffs. It is also possible to climb the mountain from here but although the first section is on well-made steps and path, traversing the ridge above the cliffs is for very experienced hill walkers and there are warnings to this effect at the end of the path.

There is another route up Sliabh Liag, slightly longer but less arduous, called the Pilgrim’s Path, that is more inland. Don’t let this put you off however as you still attain the same summit and get to see the breathtaking views over the cliffs once you are up there. The path itself is the remnant of an ancient route up the mountain to a monastic site, the remains of which can be seen near the top plateau.

Getting to the start

To get to the starting point take the N56 west from Donegal Town to Killybegs, then follow the R263 as far as the village of Carrick. Turn left in Carrick (Signposted) towards Teelin and the Slieve League cliffs. After 2.3 km keep a sharp lookout for a bend to the left with a small country road leading off to the right. (There is a big sign pointing left for the viewing point car parks but none for the Pilgrim Path to the right!) If you pass the Rusty Makerel pub you have missed the turn. You then continue uphill on a narrow road and at a bend you will finally see the signposts for the Pilgram Path route. After a few hundred metres there is a gate that you need to close behind you. (Many of these trailheads are on private land and you visit at the goodwill of local farmers. Please be respectful of them!) Beyond this there are two small parking places, the second one having a picnic bench and maps of the route. Park carefully and off you go! Waymarking is with blue arrows on black posts at this point.

Map of the route

The first section is on good gravel track with lovely views behind you towards Teelin pier and the coastline. When you come to a bend with a small waterfall you will see a sign warning that the way ahead is for experienced walkers only. From here you climb steadily on a much rougher path with loose rock, and waymarks change to yellow painted rock. Near the top of this middle section the path peters out but the yellow marked rocks remain and will lead you onwards up to a flatish rocky plateau. By now the views are already spectacular northward towards Glencolmcille, but when you reach the cairns at the southern end of the plateau care is needed, as you are now close to the cliffs. Going as far as you safely can, the full beauty of the cliffs comes into view, looking down toward one of a number of Napoleonic watch towers and sea stacks.

The One Man’s Path

To gain the official summit of Sliabh Liag you now need to continue westward over a piece of slightly boggy but also rocky ground with cairns until you see a very narrow path that leads across about 200 m of ridge where the ground falls steeply on either side. Welcome to the One Man’s Path. Let’s be clear here. This is a crossing that needs care and is not for anyone who suffers from vertigo. Nor is it wise to attempt it in any kind of windy or misty weather. Do not be tempted to enjoy the views of North Sligo or Rathlin O’ Bernie island until you are safely across. A short distance from the pass you will see the trig pillar that marks the summit. Now all you have to do is get back across the pass!

If you have a possible pick up at the Bunglass car park you could seek more thrills by returning over the main ridge toward the sea. Otherwise return downhill along the same route as you came up, taking care over some loose stones and making full use of your poles. As you return to the start you can feast on the view down to the harbour and the sea.

There are plenty of food and drink spots in Teelin and Carrick!

Looking south over the cliffs toward Ben Bulbin in the distance
  • Trailhead: Small car park about 2 km off Teelin Road. Turn left 0.5 km before The Rusty Mackerel pub.
  • Facilities: None. Toilets at Sl. Liag viewing point car park and at th.
    visitor centre in Teelin.
  • Distance: 10 km.
  • Time: 3.5 – 4 hours.
  • Terrain: Rough mountain track, rock. Moderate difficulty.
  • Ascent: 550 m approx.