Mountain of elder

I am always struck, when walking Bessy Bell, is that no two danders there are the same. It’s a seasonal thing, I suppose, and the fact that life blooms at different times of the year, or conversely, when it enters torpor, as the case may be.

On Thursday evening, with the rains clearing and the view all around vibrant and vital under steel-grey skies, the mountain was surprisingly silent. Apart from the odd crow and its caw, which usually seem to make a wild place that little bit wilder, the mountain around was silent and calm. There was scant wind and apart from the drone of far away traffic and the thrum of someone cutting a lawn, all was quiet.

Parking up at a lay-by on the Baronscourt Road outside Newtownstewart, we took the long route up the mountain, crossing spruce fields on a logging track. The flying ants, which love to bloom at this time of year, gave way to a flutter of butterflies; peacocks, four-eyed, ogre and dancing. After the bothersome ants, this explosion of coloured wings felt almost magical. And upwards the track went.


Bessy Bell, with a summit of 420 metres, offers some exquisite views on a clear day. From Knockavoe Mountain over Strabane to the Pigeon Top in the other direction, practically the whole Sperrin range is in view – and what a view.

Upon reaching the top, the eye is drawn across the Strule Valley towards Bessy’s sister, Mary Gray. Apparently, according to legend, Mary Gray and Bessy Bell were originally called Slieve Caraveagh and Slieve Troim (respectively) and were thus renamed when Scottish settlers moved into the area. The inspiration for the new names came from a from a Scottish ballad at the time, about two bonnie lassies who came to Ireland before making their passage to Ireland.

Bessy Bell, originally Slieve Troim meaning ‘mountain of elder’, is the more senior of the two ladies, being almost twice the height and, hiking up the steep incline of the logging tracks, you can feel that seniority in your calves.

One of the more prominent features of the mountain is, of course, the windturbines, a number of which dominate its north-easterly slopes. On Thursday, they turned with a languid ease, as if it was too fine an evening to be bothered with such frivolities as electricity and green engery.

And yet, up close, they are impressively enormous structures, their height belittled by things such as distance.

Absolutely the best thing about a walk up Bessy Bell (apart from the views, the butterflies, the silence, the calm and the atmosphere) is that after strolling around at the summit, it’s all downhill afterwards – all the better to enjoy the surroundings.

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