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Glenelly Valley Landscape

Last updated: 9 February 2010

Key Characteristics

  • scenic narrow mountain valley, with steep marginal farmland on the fringes of upland moors
  • the meandering river is a visual focus on a narrow floodplain which is often subdivided by irregular mounds of glacial till
  • hedgerows and stone walls form a well-connected network, following the historic townland boundaries and emphasising the undulating landform
  • open fields predominate, although tree cover increases in steeper areas and towards the foot of the slopes
  • small 'clachans', churches, stone bridges and traditional stone farmsteads are attractive features, linked by steep, narrow roads
  • numerous ancient historic sites

Landscape Description

The Glenelly Valley is often regarded as one of the most idyllic in Northern Ireland. The Glenelly River flows westwards along a long linear glen to the south of Sawel Mountain, following one of the principal fault-lines in the Sperrins. The verdant valley landscape contrasts with the expansive, windswept moorland above and has a hidden, secretive character. The valley is relatively narrow and enclosed by steep ridges. The slopes are gently undulating and divided into pastures and oak woodlands by stone walls and hedgerows. Tree cover increases towards the valley floor, where the Glenelly River meanders across a complex, undulating floodplain of alluvium and glacial moraine.

The channel has often carved deep ridges within these soft deposits, creating steep, irregular mounds and pockets of peaty marsh on the valley floor. The pastures, woodlands and copses form a varied, diverse patchwork, with small, oddly-shaped fields and larger woodlands on steeper slopes. Much of the grassland is of poor quality, with wet flushes and gullies indicated by patches of rushes and scrub. Earthbanks, hedgerows and stone walls form an interconnected network, with stone walls becoming increasingly common on the upper slopes, where they often follow the ancient townland boundaries. There are a few small conifer plantations. Settlements are typically small; buildings are clustered in traditional `clachans' and in more scattered farmsteads. Traditional buildings seem an established part of the landscape and are an attractive element in most views. They nestle in sheltered locations and are connected by steep, narrow roads which follow the contours, with sudden sharp bends and small stone bridges where they cross the narrow valleys and gullies on the side of the slopes. The Glenelly Valley has a wealth of archaeological sites which are prominent on the valley slopes.

Landscape Condition and Sensitivity to Change

The majority of the farmland and field boundaries are in good condition, although the quality of the upper pastures is generally poorer than those nearer to the valley floor. Where farms have become derelict on the fringes of the moorland, the pastures have degenerated to form a scrubby moorland transition.

The Glenelly Valley is highly valued for its heritage and scenic beauty and is designated as part of the Sperrins AONB. It is an extremely sensitive landscape with significant archaeological sites and a historic field pattern. In this narrow valley, the detailed composition of the landscape pattern is visually important and very sensitive to change as views are contained and relatively short from one side of the valley to the other.

Principles for Landscape Management

  • small conifer plantations are prominent, distracting and out of scale with the surrounding landscape pattern
  • woodland planting should not generally occur on a large scale, unless there is a need to improve the overall balance of the landscape mosaic; the historic field pattern and settings for archaeological sites should be carefully conserved

Principles for Accommodating New Development

  • built development which is sited in lines at the same elevation or in large groups would be distracting and overwhelming
  • mass planting to screen built development would require careful visual analysis and design if it is to provide a visual screen without detracting from the character of the landscape
  • stone walls and vernacular buildings are important landscape elements and should be conserved and repaired using local stone
  • new development with a suburban character would seem inappropriate and extremely prominent in this historic landscape setting