Glenveagh National Park is the second largest of the six National Parks in Ireland. It took me less than thirty minutes to drive from The Silver Tassie Hotel after a good hearty breakfast to reach the car park and begin my experience of all that the park has to offer.
First stop was the impressive visitors centre where I picked up a map of the park and planned my day. The highlight of the park is Glenveagh Castle and gardens overlooking Lough Veagh itself.
Wheeling down to a viewing area where those taking the visitors bus to the castle 4k away wait, I was soon on a dedicated walking and cycle track that wound its way along the shore over to the Castle. The gravel surface is perfect for hybrids or mountain bikes and even some kids seemed to be really enjoying their spin along with their parents.
Arriving at the Castle by bicycle you enter through the incredible gardens, where you have to dismount. The exotic plants and trees from all over the World surround you in a visual cacophony of rarely seen colours shapes and sizes. It actually reminded me of an area of Balboa Park in San Diego which has a very different climate to Ireland.
I just about manage to keep my grass cut and am by no means a gardener but this place really draws you in. The peace and quiet, the smells, the exotic nature of all of the plants gives the impression of a place where no expense, or effort was spared when creating these gardens over a hundred years ago.
Next you come to the Castle itself. A magnificent insight into what it must have been like to live in the splendour of the time is portrayed by how well the entire building has been maintained and preserved. Although some areas have obviously been upgraded by previous inhabitants it only adds to the feeling of real people living here in such a magnificent setting.
Out back is a large walled vegetable garden still in full use today which overlooks a magnificent conservatory.
There are a few trail walks surrounding the castle including one up to a viewing area high above. It is very steep in places. The view from the top however, is worth the effort.
Hours would pass easily, exploring the castle and its immediate surroundings, including an outdoor swimming pool above a boat house that would be worthy of any episode of lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Many leisure cyclists would then return back to the visitor centre at this stage but to continue on, along a slightly more uneven trail brings you over to the waterfall, just at the end of the lake itself. You get to see a few old dwellings and it’s a nice way to gain a sense of just how large the lake itself is.
Further on past the waterfall the trail continues on rising up for the next three kilometres. After heavy rainfall this surface does get a little rough in places and is best suited to a mountain bike.
The view from the top is spectacular as you look back down along the valley and across the full length of the lake down below.
This brings you out onto a road where you can turn left towards Glebe house and gallery. From this point there is 15k of on road cycling to return you back to the main entrance to the Glenveagh car park and visitor centre.
Having climbed up this far I wanted to enjoy the descent and see all within the park itself, so retraced my route back down to the waterfall and on to the Castle once more.
The descent was enjoyable on the mountain bike bearing in mind that the area is very popular with hill walkers who always have the right of way.
Soon I was back down at the Castle once more, and stopped into the tea rooms for a coffee. There is also a great selection of fresh food to replenish your energy stores.
Next it was back onto the bike and whilst heading in the direction of the visitors centre, I followed a signpost directing me right, up towards Lough Inshagh. A gradual climb brought me up overlooking the lake and the surrounding mountains before once again retracing my route back down towards the visitor centre.
There I noticed the sign for The Derrylahan Nature trail, so had to try that too. A 2k loop through beautiful woodland that is mostly flat, with just one short steep section.
Now I was once more back at the car park, having spent a very enjoyable day exploring all that this fantastic national park has to offer.
Bike hire is available onsite from www.grassroutes.ie or The Silver Tassie hotel can arrange this as part of a discounted package for you beforehand.