Urris Lakes

Urris Lakes

Urris Lakes

Located high in the heather clad Urris hills in the Inishowen Peninsula are two pristine lakes that overlook the Lough Swilly. The hike has a coastal ascent with outstanding panoramic views. From the very beginning you will have impressive views of Lenan bay. In the distance to your south, you will see the craggy rocks of lenan head. To the south you will see the dilapidated remains of Lenan fort and local fishing boats anchored at Lenan pier. Weekends you may bump into a few hikers, but during the quieter weekdays it can be a very isolated hike. With no company other than sheep grazing along the trail, squawking seagulls and the sounds of the cold water of the Swilly crashing against the rocks below.

Location: Lenan, Clonmany, Co. Donegal, Ireland.

GPS co-ordinates: 55.239879, -7.517107

Parking: There is a small car park at Lenan bay which is a mere two-minute walk from the entrance of the hike. From the car park, cross the bridge and follow the road until you come to a corner with an old water pump and find the entrance gate.

Length & Difficulty: 6.5km hike. Allow 3 – 4 hours. It is a moderate to strenuous hike.

Guided Tour: Mysteries of Inishowen private day tour 2022 – Donegal (viator.com)

Safety & Gear: Like any hike you should let someone know in advance you are going and your estimated return time. Fully charged mobile phone. Hiking boots, preferably waterproof the terrain varies from rough pathways to dirt tracks. If you venture off the pathways it can be marshy and hard to spot beneath the heather and ferns. Drinking water is essential and a light lunch or snack if desired.

Trail: The trail route is comprised of rough cart tracks, bog road and dirt trails.

Urris Hills

 Lakes: When you reach the first lake you will see a narrow trail the leads over a small hill to the south west that  brings you to the second more impressive valley lake. Here I suggest you catch your breath, enjoy your lunch and soak in those impressive views. Get a few snaps, enjoy the reward that is reaching the top. To the right side of the lake after a small climb you will reach an area littered with cairns and the most impressive views of Urris.

Urris plane crash

Crash Site:

Good Friday 11th April 1941 a wellington bomber that got lost in the fog. Mistaking Lough Swilly for Lough Foyle and crashing into the Urris hills tragically killing all six members on board. The crash site is still littered with the crash debris and a memorial plaque is situated on the spot, nestled amongst rocks and the rusted remains of the Wellington bomber. As one looks out across the deep cold blue water of the Swilly from the crash site it is hard not to feel a sense of mournfulness that such a tragedy occurred cutting the lives short of 6 young men.

urris hills

Descent: The descent is not as straight forward as the ascent as for the most part the trail can be hard to follow and easy to lose. If you found the ascent very tough you might wish to return using the same trail. Otherwise press on passed the lakes keeping an eye out for the marking posts pointing you in the right direction.

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Lenan Fort

The Victorian style fort located in Lenan, Urris, in the Inishowen Pennsiula, county Donegal was built in 1895. It was part of seven British built coastal artillery defensive forts built to protect Lough Swilly. The site, no longer in use consisted of barrack accommodation, water tower, guard house, three semi-circular concrete gun emplacements with concrete sloping embankments and underground ammunitions stores.

Lenan Fort gun embankment

Lenan fort 1938

October 3rd, 1938, saw the last British garrison lower the British flag and the tricolour raised. A simple ceremony was held. Five soldiers from each side faced each other and rendered a salute to the sound of a single bugler. Sgt King lowered the British flag, and his brother-in-law Sgt McLaughlin raised the Irish flag.

lenan fort guns

Lenan Head Fort was recomended in 1891 for the defence of Lough Swilly to be armed with 1 x 9.2inch BL gun, two 9 or 10inch RML guns and 2 x 6pdr QF guns. In 1901 it was armed with 2 x 9.2-inch BL Mk I and 1 x 9.2-in BL Mk IV gun. Between 1909 and 1911 the guns were changed to 2 x Mark X. They were removed for scrap in the 1950s.

Pictured is an example of the guns that one stood in these emplacements located in Lenan forts sister fort Dunree.

The fort closed in 1946 only eight years after being handed over to the Irish state. Fort Lenan is now in a dilapidated state. Many of the buildings have fallen to ruin. Of tin barracks only a forest of chimney stacks remains to remind us of their presence. Harsh weathering has corroded the sturdy brick building removing roofs and rusting metal.

The site an area of outstanding natural beauty overlooked by the Urris hills on one side and backdropped with an expansive view of Lough Swilly and Fanad lighthouse. Lenan heads sheer cliffs are battered with ferocious waves even on the calmest of days. In summer months these cliff edges are dotted with pink lavender hued sea thrift and occupied by grazing sheep.

If visiting the site do so with caution. Uncovered manholes and holes are numerous around the site and some are hard to see through the grass and rubble. Cliff edges are sheer and have no railing making the site unsuitable for children.