Discover The Geopark
The Marlbank is an area on the northern, lower slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain that offers some of the most picturesque and evocative landscapes in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Marl is a word often used by geologists for the type of dark-coloured limestone, which has given rise to this spectacular countryside.
Time: Approx 1.5 hours
Click Marlbank to download a map of this route.
The start and finish point for the Marlbank route is the Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre. Take a guided tour of the showcave, explore the Visitor Centre or simply avail of the facilities!
Cuilcagh Mountain Park was opened in 1998 by Fermanagh District Council on the northern slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain. It provides some of the best hill walking access in the entire Geopark and at 665m high, Cuilcagh is the highest point in Fermanagh and Cavan. With a patchwork of landscapes the Cuilcagh Mountain park is rich in geology, flora and fauna, archaeology and folklore, and much of the area is protected under international, European and national legislation.
3. Crossmurrin and Killykeegan National Nature Reserve
The Crossmurrin and Killykeegan National Nature Reserve is representative of the most extensive area of limestone grassland in Northern Ireland. The thin soils covering the limestone bedrock in this area support a rich variety of colourful herbs and plants including pink thyme, blue harebell and yellow bird’s-foot trefoil as well as insects such as the common blue and peacock butterflies. Although there is no public access to Crossmurrin, there is parking and a short 600m circular trail at Killykeegan where you can see fine examples of limestone pavement and glacial erratics, archaeological features, and historical farming features. There is also a small exhibition of local history on site in a restored cottage.
4. Marlbank Viewpoint
The view over Lough MacNean Lower from the Marlbank is exceptional on a clear day. The MacNean Valley is now occupied by two lakes, joined together by a small river that separates the border villages of Belcoo (County Fermanagh) and Blacklion (County Cavan). The valley itself was formed over 13,000 years ago when huge ice sheets up to 800 metres thick, would have scoured out the present valley shape as they slowly carved their way across the landscape.
5. Hanging Rock
The magnificent 50 metre high limestone cliff that makes up the Hanging Rock is a well-known landmark as you travel along the main road from Blacklion to Florencecourt. Part of the Hanging Rock and Rossaa Forest National Nature Reserve, the woodland at the bottom of the cliff is one of the finest ash woodlands in the country, supporting red squirrel and pine marten. The name Hanging Rock derives from a local legend stating that a rock dislodged from the cliff and fell onto a travelling salt seller beneath who was taking shelter there during a storm. The offending rock became known as the cloghoge or Salter’s Rock and can be seen clearly by the road side. The nearby Gortatole Outdoor Education Centre provides environmental education for schools from western parts of Northern Ireland.
6. Cladagh Glen
The narrow-steep sided gorge of the Cladagh Glen is one of the most picturesque sites in the whole Geopark as the Cladagh River re-emerges from its underground journey through the Marble Arch Caves. The woodland here is a long-established, predominantly ash woodland that is home to a vast array of flowering plants and herbs such as early purple orchid, bird’s nest orchid and bluebell. The walk from the Cladagh Bridge car park to the top of the Marble Arch Caves passes numerous outcrops of limestone and the Cascades cave rising where crystal clear water gushes down a natural staircase.
Numerous knoll-shaped hills can be seen as you travel along the Marlbank road to the Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre. These hills are often referred to as reef-knolls but are more accurately known to geologists as mud-mounds, which formed as mounds of lime-rich mud, on the floor of a warm, tropical sea over 300 million years ago. The lime-rich mud hardened over millions of years to form limestone, one of the most common rocks in Ireland. In most other places limestone occurs as horizontal layers as opposed to the mounds that we see here. One of the mud-mounds, Gortmaconnell Rock, is reached after a short but steep walk from the roadside where a viewing platform allows panoramic views of Cuilcagh Mountain and the Marlbank.