Hidden away, not too far from Dungiven town centre (3 miles South West on the B74 – to be precise), there lies the most tranquil location. Deep within one of the oldest ancient oak woodlands in Ireland, lies Banagher Glen Nature Reserve and Forest Park.
There are several spots upon entering the park where you can park your car for free, however it is worth noting some of these are only open during peak season and this includes the toilet facilities also (June to September 9.00 am-9.00 pm at weekends. During July and August, it is open daily from 9.00 am to 9.00 pm).
We began our journey following the paved road up towards the Dam, sign posting is limited (stick to the left), a bridge across the river allows for a spectacular glance of a waterfall. Legend tells that a pool here is home to the last snake in Ireland. St Patrick was unable to drive this giant serpent out of the country so instead trapped it forever at this spot.
There are several walks and routes to take across the site, the main track following the road takes you up the valley towards the Altnaheglish Reservoir (Roughly 2 miles) and the other branches off up the Glenedra Valley through some of the reserves finest woodland, on both routes you must retrace your steps to return.
Many visitors often cycle this route and it is worth noting it’s included within a 28 mile challenging cycle route around the Northern Sperrins foothills.
This spectacular woodland has survived the extensive tree felling during the 1700’s and continues to provide a home for the flora and fauna that have been growing here for centuries. When the trees fell, the wood was made into charcoal and used for local industries. Then the woodland was left to recover to what lies here today.
Banagher Glen is a Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation for the main reason of it being the largest and least disturbed example of old sessile oak woods in Northern Ireland. The site itself is also home to a wide diversity of plants and animals because of this.
The steep sides of the glens are clothed by mature trees, mostly oak and ash, with an understory of rowan, hazel, hawthorn and holly. Ferns and mosses thrive in damp shaded alcoves along the river banks. Bird visitors such as the warbler family can be heard and seen here, specifically Chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap. You may very well catch the reminiscent song of the Cuckoo.
Most of the underlying rock is Schist with outcrops of limestone, Schist produces acidic soils for Sessile Oaks whereas limestone produces more alkaline soils, best suited for Ash to thrive.
As we travelled uphill the cliffs along the left hand side become more and more visible. Autumn time you’ll see heather clinging to the cliff edges with beautiful shades of pinks and purples.
After a while the cliffs disappear and we left the forest behind and enter into an empty wilderness. The trail becomes straight and dusty; you may feel like you’re walking forever. Keep walking! It’s most definitely worth it.
You will arrive at a split in the pathway, take the left hand side, we made the mistake and had to double back on ourselves. We’re really great at sticking to the main routes..
Not long after this you will see Altnaheglish Reservoir come into view. Such a spectacular spot and so peaceful.
Congratulations! You have made it. Sit down, enjoy the view! Once you are ready, turn around and make your way back to the car park.