These are a set of three sites which collectively comprise the Marlbank Nature Reserves. They include the Marble Arch Forest Nature Reserve, the Killykeeghan and Crossmurrin Nature Reserve and the Hanging Rock and Rossaa Nature Reserve. Over a relatively small area, visitors can discover caves, steep gorges, cliffs and woodlands, as well as areas of extended grassland covered in wildflowers.
Take a walk through the Marble Arch Glen to experience the vivid autumn colour and maybe dipper on the river. Spring at Hanging Rock brings woodland flowers and birdsong. Killykeeghan walk takes you through herb rich grasslands and hazel woodland, look and listen for the skylark and call at the cottage to discover the historical way of life of the Marlbank area.
Appearing from an underground cave, the Cladagh River flows down a narrow, steeply-sided gorge towards the Erne lowlands. Marble Arch Nature Reserve takes its name from the polished limestone arch over the river which people used to think was marble. The arch was formed when a cave roof collapsed. Take a walk beside the river as it tumbles over waterfalls and cascades along the gorge.
Clinging to the sides of the gorge is an ancient ash woodland which is full of wildflowers in spring. Look for bluebells, early purple orchid, wild strawberry and the rare bird’s-nest orchid. Wood goldilocks grows here indicating that this is a very old woodland. Watch for dippers and otters hunting in the river and look above into the trees for red squirrels and maybe a pine marten. This site was important for early Christians and the monk St. Lasser used it as a retreat. Look for St. Lasser’s cell which is a mound built into the ground.
The best time to visit is April to September for woodland flowers and birds, October to December for autumn colour in the ash wood and all year round for a stunning walk through the gorge.
The Visitor’s Centre at the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark (run by Fermanagh District Council) is open from late March to September, from 10am -4.30pm mid March – June and September and from 10am – 5pm during July and August and has toilets and a café. Car parking is available beside the Visitor’s Centre and at the bottom of the glen beside the Florencourt – Blacklion Road which is open all year round. Sturdy footwear is recommended.
KILLYKEEGAN AND CROSSMURIN
Set between the stunning Cuilcagh Mountain and the Erne lowlands is Northern Ireland’s only area of limestone grassland. A few patches of hazel scrub remain dotted through the grassland because the area has been cleared for farming since the Stone Age. The scrub shelters delicate woodland flowers including wood sorrel and primroses. In spring the limestone grassland becomes a blaze of colour with pink thyme, early purple orchid, blue harebell and yellow bird’s-foot trefoil all blooming.
Look for common blue and peacock butterflies feeding on the flowers and in May listen for the cuckoo announcing its arrival. Watch for Irish Hare in the grassland and for stoats darting along the dry stone walls. The site is steeped in history and is a treasure trove of historic monuments with early Christian ring forts, ancient field enclosures and a big Bronze Age ring and cup marked stone, indicating the presence of humans for thousands of years.
The best time to visit is from May for the cuckoo, April to September for flowers, butterflies and birds, October to December for autumn colour in the hazel wood and all year round for the limestone pavement and historical features.
There are toilets, a car park and information panels at Killykeegan cottage.
Please note that the site may be grazed at any time. Dogs must be kept on leads when grazing animals are present. Sturdy footwear is recommended.
HANGING ROCK & ROSSAA
Overlooking Lower Lough MacNean is the Hanging Rock, a magnificent 50 metre high limestone cliff. Yew and juniper cling to its cliff face. At the foot of the cliff is one of the finest ash woodlands in the country. This peaceful wood has a great variety of lichens. Look for parasitic toothwort on the damp woodland floor. It is brilliant white and stands out among the green mosses. Watch for red squirrels and secretive pine martens.
In Rossaa Wood to the west, savour the sight of mature oak, beech, willow and elm and seek out the colourful yellow blooms of the Welsh poppy growing on the grassy slopes. The rock that sits beside the road on the eastern side of the reserve is cloaked in legend. It is said to have fallen from the cliff in a storm onto a local salt trader who was taking shelter from a storm. The rock became known as Salter’s Stone or Cloghoge.
The best time to visit is April to September for woodland flowers and birds, October to December for autumn colour in the wood and all year round for the colourful lichens and stunning cliff.
There is limited parking in a small lay-by on the side of the road. There is a short path to where a river emerges from underground.