Roscommon, Leitrim and Cavan: 116km (72 miles)/about 2 days at 50km/h (2 hrs 19mins)
The island-studded Lough Key is arguably the most beautiful lake on the River Shannon, while the rugged surrounds of Lough Allen boast the iron mountain of Sliabh an Iarainn to the east and the old coal hills of Arigna along its western shore. As for angling, coarse and game are in abundance here, so don’t forget your rods!
Roscommon to Leitrim
The perfect place to start your journey is at the foot of the Curlew Mountains in Boyle, home to the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. Built in the 12th century, Boyle Abbey’s original features are what draw flocks of enthusiasts and scholars alike to the site: the imposing tower, majestic columns, lancet windows and the rather fine 16th century fireplace and chimney. The town is also where Irish actor Chris O’Dowd sets his award-winning TV series Moone Boy.
Next stop is Lough Key Forest Park, where we start off with a walk amongst the treetops. Yes, that’s what we said: Ireland’s only Tree Canopy Walk means you can tread the branches and admire the prettiest flora and fauna from the air. It’s self-guided, so take your time.
If you’re not a fan of heights, don't worry, there is plenty to do on the ground too. Lough Key Forest Park was once home to the Rockingham family estate before it was transformed into a playground that encompasses historic buildings, islands and abundant wildlife.
You could spend hours here experiencing the quests in Boda Borg, a unique activity to Ireland, suitable for adults and children over 7 years. To survive the Quests you need to employ different skills - it’s all about teamwork! Solving one challenge opens the door to the next, and another blast of curiosity and laughter. Teams of three to five are required. Watch the younger children discover a magical land of innovative play equipment in the Adventure Play Kingdom - a colourful and safe environment that will keep kids entertained for hours. Allow yourself to be taken back in time on the ‘Lough Key Experience’ as you are self-guided through the old 19th century servant tunnels. Be blown away by the views from the Moylurg Tower.
Other activities in the park include the Zipit Forest Adventures, an aerial obstacle course through the trees with zip lines; guided boat tours and also rowing boats for hire; electric bike trails with bikes for hire; and the Woodland Segway with guided tours and fun glides through the park. Revive in The Lakeside Café, where you can enjoy some sweet and savoury delights overlooking the beautiful vista of Castle Island and Lough Key.
Leitrim to Cavan
On to Leitrim now, where you can explore more of Lough Allen’s craggy landscapes in the small village of Drumshanbo. Visit The Shed Distillery of P.J. Rigney Drumshanbo, the first distillery in Connacht (one of Ireland’s 4 provinces) in over 101 years. The Shed marks a return to traditional distillation using medieval copper stills and is the first multi-purpose distillery of its kind in Ireland. Visitors can wander through the Shed’s ‘secret tabernacle’ where new recipes are being developed, stand alongside the gleaming copper medieval stills, see the distillers in action and experience the magic of it all.
Stop off at the Sliabh an Iarainn Visitor Centre to learn all about life, transport and the industries that supported the local people for centuries: namely iron and coal mining.
Why not get back out into the fresh air and cast your rod. After all, Drumshanbo is a prized angling spot. There are plenty of bream, roach, hybrids, rudd and perch to take. The lake is also famous for big pike and wild brown trout. And if you fancy a walk, there are numerous trails to choose from.
Foodies, make sure you pay a visit to Mill Lane Beekeeping for some of their sweet (and delicious) honeys, jams, marmalades, oils, chutneys and relishes – and the gift packs make great presents to take home. What’s more, if you’re a beekeeper, they have everything to cater for all your beekeeping needs.
Head to the Arigna Mining Experience
From treading air in Lough Key to delving underground: the Arigna Mining Experience in the Arigna Valley is our next stop. What’s in store? A tour through some of the narrowest coal seams in the western world, with coal extraction demonstrations to add to your experience. But the thing that makes it truly authentic? Some of the tour guides are former miners, giving you a first-hand account of working life in the cramped mines.
Back via Drumshanbo and it’s onto Cleighran More, location of St Hugh’s Holy Well – a curiosity because of its bright orange water. Is it because it’s rich in iron, or is there something else going on? You decide. The site is dedicated to St Hugh, the local patron. Stop for some lunch (and for the views of Lough Allen) in the picnic area just above.
Make a stop-off in County Cavan next, in the village of Dowra. Just outside the village lies part of an ancient frontier earthwork that runs for three miles, called the Black Pig’s Dyke. This was a series of defensive ditches built between Ulster and Connacht in the first century AD. Ask the locals and they’ll tell you it’s called 'the worm ditch'. Why? According to local legend, the ditch was made by a great serpent wriggling across the land.
Note: This tour is for information only and is intended to show you some of the possibilities for enjoyment. Always check your route and distances and allow plenty of time for stop-offs, diversions, rest and relaxation. This tour is based on a more detailed Lakelands tour featured on Ireland.com, the website of Tourism Ireland and is drawn upon with their permission. We also highlight Heritage Island Attractions (Ireland's Premier Attractions and Heritage Towns) along the journey or nearby and these feature on the map below. If you have any suggestions for additions to this tour we would love to hear from you.
Roll over the map pins to view attraction names. Click on a marker to go to the profile of the attraction.